TV ratings for the College Football Playoff were down massively, 1.) because the games were blowouts and 2.) because of the foolish decision to move the games from New Year's Day to New Year's Eve.
ESPN, which has the rights to the Playoff games as well as the four other New Year's Six games, knew this could happen. It tried to move the Playoff games to Jan. 2 for this year. It was rebuffed by the conferences, because of pre-existing contracts and a desire to keep the bowls with long-standing traditions of playing on New Year's Day happy.
Thanks to bad timing of the games and enormous blowouts, the ratings were disastrous. Not only did the Playoff games suffer massive drops in TV viewership, other games suffered their worst ratings in decades. Per CBS, the Rose Bowl had its worst ratings since records were kept, and the Sugar Bowl had its worst since 1999.
However, it was the job of somebody at ESPN's PR department to make it look as if this was all fine. Those people had to put together a press release on how this was all actually good.
The 7.1 overnight rating average for the New Year's Six - in which average margin victory across the six games was 24 points â is down 13% from last season's 8.2.
But then, there are explanations of why what happened is actually good.
Four of the New Year's Six bowl games saw ratings increases from their same bowl last year (i.e. Cotton Bowl vs. Cotton Bowl), including the Fiesta Bowl featuring No. 8 Notre Dame vs. No. 7 Ohio State (New Year's Day at 1 p.m. ET), which earned a 6.2 overnight, up 35% from the Fiesta Bowl last season. As previously documented, the Orange Bowl was up 102%, Cotton Bowl up 87%, and Peach Bowl up 21%.
The Cotton and Orange this year had increased ratings from the Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl last year. Last year, the Cotton and Orange were not Playoff games. This year they were. It would be troubling if there wasn't an increase for the games that gained importance.
Last year, the Fiesta was a 4 p.m. Eastern game on New Year's Eve between Boise State and Arizona. That means it kicked off at 2 p.m. on a non-holiday Wednesday in the time zones of the two smaller teams. This year, the Fiesta was a New Year's Day kickoff between Ohio State and Notre Dame, two of the biggest fanbases in college football. Again, it would be shocking if there wasn't an increase.
It's neat that the Peach Bowl's viewership went up in the same time slot as last year, though, which could perhaps be explained by Houston's win over Florida State remaining more competitive than last year's TCU blowout of Ole Miss.
The four bowls which were not designated as a semifinal this season (Peach, Fiesta, Rose, and Sugar) averaged a 5.8 overnight, up 26% from the four bowls last season which were not semifinals (Peach, Fiesta, Orange and Cotton).
Last year, three of the four bowls that weren't semifinals were on New Year's Eve, which isn't a day people get off from work. This year, three of the four were on New Year's Day were on New Year's Day, which is a day people get off from work. It's not surprising that more people watched the non-semifinals this year.
Four of the New Year's Six also saw ratings increases from their corresponding time slots last year, including the Fiesta Bowl which was up 17% from the 2015 New Year's Day early afternoon game (Cotton Bowl). As previously documented, the Orange Bowl was up 111% from the 2014 New Year's Eve late afternoon game (Fiesta Bowl) and the Cotton Bowl was up 106% from the 2014 New Year's Eve prime time game (Orange Bowl).
It shouldn't be surprising that more people watched the New Year's Eve games this year, because they were Playoff games. Last year, fewer people skipped out on work/social obligations on Dec. 31, because the games were less important.
The fact that more people watched the games in bad time slots doesn't negate the fact that the viewership of the most important games massively dipped due to the bad time slots.
The Rose and the Sugar kept their prime TV slots, but suffered huge dropoffs by being non-semifinal blowouts.
People want to watch the Playoff. The overwhelming success of the first year, when all the games were played at times when people could watch them and happened to be better games, is a testament to this fact. College football's Power 5 conference potentates are misplaying their hand by assuming there will be no repercussions to intentionally inconveniencing fans.
It's neat that the Peach Bowl's viewership went up, though.
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