ESPN Scores Two Largest Audiences in Cable History with College Football Playoff

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The inaugural year of the College Football Playoff has already showed dividends in the ratings. The two semifinal playoff games, at the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl, on ESPN drew the two largest audiences in cable history on Thursday, Jan. 1.

Cable’s most-watched event is the Allstate Sugar Bowl at 9 p.m., where the Big Ten champion Ohio State Buckeyes achieved a 42-35 upset victory over the top-seeded Alabama Crimson Tide. The game averaged 28.271 million viewers, based on a 15.2 household rating, according Nielsen Live plus Same Day data.

Pac-12 champion Oregon Ducks defeated the previously unbeaten Florida State Seminoles 59-20 in the Rose Bowl Game, which preceded the Sugar Bowl. It delivered the second largest crowd in cable history with 28.164 million viewers and a 14.8 rating, according to Nielsen.

The previous cable record was the 27.316 million who watched the ESPN telecast of the BCS National Championship featuring Auburn and Oregon on Jan. 10, 2011.

Both games generated significant increases over the ESPN bowl games in the respective January 1 time slots a year ago: a 51 percent increase in viewership for the Rose Bowl Game (vs. 18,636,000) and 150 percent increase for the Sugar Bowl (vs. 11,304,000). The ratings rose 45 percent (from 10.2) and 130 percent (from 6.6), respectively.

ESPN programming now holds the largest 18 audiences in cable television history, and 36 of the top 40.

In its debut, the College Football Playoff semifinal games live on ESPN’s digital platform WatchESPN logged an average of 864,000 unique viewers, 42.4 million minutes viewed and an average minute audience of 187,000 per game – up 185 percent, 124 percent and 119 percent, respectively, compared to the last year’s games in the time slots.

Alabama-Ohio State was the best Sugar Bowl ever across all metrics – 912,000 unique viewers (up 164 percent compared to last year’s Sugar Bowl), 58.7 million minutes viewed (up 173 percent) and an average minute audience of 256,000 (up 181 percent). The Sugar Bowl now stands as the best college football game ever on WatchESPN based on unique viewers and minutes viewed.

Despite technical issues during the first half of Oregon-Florida State, WatchESPN recorded its best Rose Bowl ever based on unique viewers (816,000, up 212 percent) and second best ever in minutes viewed (26.2 million, up 59 percent) and average minute audience (116,000, up 47 percent).

The average New Year’s Six game live on WatchESPN attracted 505,000 unique viewers, 26.2 million minutes viewed and an average minute audience of 118,000 – up 229 percent, 214 percent and 198 percent, respectively, compared to the same dates last year. Compared to the four non-championship BCS games last year, the average New Year’s Six game was up 85 percent in unique viewers, 55 percent in minutes viewed and 57 percent in average minute audience.

The New Year’s Six – the six bowl games, three on New Year’s Eve and three on New Year’s Day, that are part of the new College Football Playoff – posted an increase of 78 percent in viewership compared to the same six time slots last year. The six averaged 14,682,000 viewers, up from 8,267,000. The Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic (which began airing at 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 1) on ESPN increased viewership for the time slot 67 percent, from 5,435,000 to 9,086,000. The rating rose 63 percent, from 3.2 to 5.2. Michigan State came back from 41-21 deficit and scored three unanswered touchdowns to defeat #5 seed Baylor 42-41.

ESPN’s college football tripleheader on Wednesday, Dec. 31 delivered the most-viewed and highest-rated New Year’s Eve tripleheader on an ESPN network on record (since 1990). The three postseason bowls – Chick-fil-A Peach, Vizio Fiesta and Capital One Orange – combined to average 7,116,000 viewers and a 4.3 U.S. household rating, marking increases of 53 percent (vs. 4,648,000) and 54 percent (vs. 2.8), respectively, over the 2013 tripleheader.

ESPN’s Capital One Orange Bowl at 8:30 p.m. ET – No. 12 Georgia Tech beating No. 7 Mississippi State 49-34 – averaged 8,935,000 viewers (based on a 5.0 U.S. household rating), making it the most-viewed New Year’s Eve game on ESPN on record. The contest delivered 257,000 live unique viewers, average minute audience of 83,000 and 16,600,000 live minutes viewed on WatchESPN.

ESPN’s Vizio Fiesta Bowl at 4 p.m. – a 38-30 No. 20 Boise State victory over No. 10 Arizona – averaged 7,406,000 viewers and a 4.6 US rating. On WatchESPN, the Fiesta Bowl generated 292,000 live unique viewers, an average minute audience of 75,000 and 17,400,000 live minutes viewed.

ESPN’s Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at 12:30 p.m. – No. 6 TCU defeating No. 9 Ole Miss 41-3 in a contest that featured a 28-0 halftime lead – averaged 5,013,000 viewers and a 3.4 US rating. The bowl posted 317,000 live unique viewers, an average minute audience of 87,000 and 17,800,000 live minutes viewed.

Oregon will face Ohio State in the College Football Playoff National Championship at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Monday, Jan. 12 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN, and like last year, as well as on ESPN’s other networks in “mega-cast” form, such as film room chatter and extra in-game statistical data.