College Football Playoff TV Ratings: What Went Wrong?

    The College Football Playoff TV ratings took a disastrous dip. What happened?

    January 2, 2016


    The College Football Playoff TV ratings crashed. What’s really the problem?


    College Football Playoff Ratings: The Big Fall

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    The TV ratings for Year Two of the College Football Playoff did a nosedive. Was it the date? Was it the teams? Was it the players?

    Or maybe the sequel was more Anchorman 2 than Godfather II.

    The Michigan State vs. Alabama Cotton Bowl – the marquee matchup – drew a 9.9 rating compared to the 15.2 the Ohio State vs. Alabama Sugar Bowl of last season received, meaning about ten million fewer people watched the second-biggest game of the season next to the championship.

    The Clemson vs. Oklahoma Orange Bowl drew a 9.1 compared to the 14.8 the Florida State vs. Oregon Rose Bowl received, with about 13 million fewer viewers. On the plus side, the Orange Bowl ratings blew up compared to the Georgia Tech vs. Mississippi State debacle of last season – that got a 5.0 – but that’s obviously not the point.

    There were a lot of missing eyeballs from the playoffs, and there’s no question whatsoever that the ratings would’ve been significantly better had the games been played on New Year’s Day, or better yet, on Saturday. The Fiesta, Rose and Sugar could’ve still been on the first leading up to the playoffs on the second, and boom. But again, it might be more than that.

    The inaugural CFP TV ratings were off-the-charts, but they were also helped by a perfect storm that couldn’t have been recreated.

    Of course the date was a problem. The Chick-fil-A Peach, Fiesta, Rose and Sugar could’ve stayed where they were, put the Orange and Cotton playoff games on January 2nd when everyone would’ve made them appointment television, and the ratings would’ve been better, but they still probably wouldn’t have come close to last year’s numbers.

    Remember, not only did the inaugural College Football Playoff have New Year’s Day, and not only did it have the Rose and Sugar, but it also started out with the undefeated defending national champion Florida State Seminoles vs. the high-octane Oregon Ducks in the perfect slot. Throw in the Heisman vs. Heisman showdown of Jameis Winston vs. Marcus Mariota, and the star power was off the charts.

    Deshaun Watson vs. Baker Mayfield wasn’t going to get that done, and Clemson vs. Oklahoma just wasn’t big enough, but if they played in the Rose Bowl at 5:00 ET on January 1st, the ratings would’ve been far, far different.

    The Rose still matters to the casual fan – as long as it’s on New Year’s Day.

    The ratings for the Miami vs. Nebraska 2002 Rose Bowl were among the worst of all the BCS championship games, partly because it was played on January 3rd instead of its regular slot, but that’s not it.

    The matchups matter. The 2002 Rose did a 13.9. The next year, Ohio State vs. defending national champion Miami did a 17.2 in the Fiesta Bowl.

    Last season’s Sugar not only had Ohio State vs. Alabama, and not only did it have New Year’s Day, but it also had that perfect lead-in from the Rose. The novelty factor played a huge role, but it was Urban vs. Saban and the two evil empires of college football. It just felt … BIG. Michigan State vs. Alabama didn’t have that same “it’ experience.

    But didn’t the NFL types want to see Connor Cook? The Derrick Henry Heisman factor should’ve played a role, right?

    Which leads to the other part of the equation the CFP will have to deal with – sometimes the TV ratings are just flaky.

    You’d have thought the 2009 BCS Championship would’ve been the absolute perfect matchup for TV – at least FOX sure did. Tim Tebow was a media numbers god, leading Florida to its second national title in three years vs. Oklahoma, Heisman-winner Sam Bradford and the most exciting offense in college football. Ratings gold, right?

    Not even close.

    The epic 2006 Vince Young Texas vs. Reggie Bush/Matt Leinart USC Rose Bowl got a 21.7, the Florida blowout over the Troy Smith Ohio State team in the 2007 title game got a 17.4. and even the less-than-scintillating LSU matchup with a mediocre Ohio State in 2008 got a 17.4.

    Tim Tebow? Sam Bradford? A 15.8 in the 2009 BCS championship.

    The next year, the 2010 Mark Ingram Alabama vs. Colt McCoy Texas game went back up to a 17.2.

    The CFP numbers are going to dip and spike, too, just like the BCS ratings did through the next several years, too, but, the New Year’s Eve date is the easiest part of the equation to control. This ratings collapse was foreseeable, but there’s no need to panic quite yet. Maybe this really does become a New Year’s Day tradition.

    Maybe the matchups are bigger and better next season. Maybe the stars will be bigger. Maybe the teams will have more storylines.

    Or maybe this thing just needs to be played when people don’t have other things to do.

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