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College Football National Title Game Ratings Were the Lowest Ever

ESPN announced the ratings for the College Football national title game, and to me they are troublesome:

Looking at the chart of historical ratings for the national title game on Sports Media Watch, last season’s game between Clemson and LSU drew 25.6 million viewers. This means viewership was down about 27 percent year-over-year. This was the least watched national championship game on record; the previous low was 21.4 million for USC beating Oklahoma 55-19 in early 2005. The College Football Playoff and previously BCS national title game format dates back to early 1999. (Updated note: The games have only been on cable since 2014, so the games before that reached more homes.)

The silver lining is that this number crushes any sporting event — and just about anything else on TV, save for big awards shows and presidential debates — that isn’t football. The most watched NBA Finals game this year had under 9 million viewers. The most watched game of the World Series this year did under 13 million viewers.

There are myriad factors that contributed to this number. College football is an oligopoly and this was Nick Saban’s sixth national title at Alabama. I know I’m sick of them. If you’re not an Alabama fan, how could you not be? The game was a blowout that was never seriously in question in the second half. News viewership continues to spike, and that affects casual viewers on the margins, which is where ratings rise and fall. It also came immediately following a weekend where there were an unprecedented six NFL playoff games. I’m sure there were some people who had had their fill of football.

People have floated an eight-team playoff, but I’m not sure how much that would accomplish in breaking up the hegemony of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and on the next tier Oklahoma, Georgia, and maybe LSU. It’s hard to blame players for wanting to play for winners, but the best talent has been flocking to those programs. What would your solution be to juice up excitement in college football?

Written by Ryan Glasspiegel

Ryan Glasspiegel grew up in Connecticut, graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison, and lives in Chicago. Before OutKick, he wrote for Sports Illustrated and The Big Lead. He enjoys expensive bourbon and cheap beer.

31 Comments

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  1. if i were a media executive involved in broadcasting, i would be panicking.

    i wonder if broadcast sports in general may have reached a bit of a saturation point, even before covid. and now its beginning to show up in the ratings. that and the social justice crap in every commercial and #sayhername shirts on athletes.

    • Yea, the woke commercials plus the sheer number of commercials, woke or otherwise. So many commercial-free viewing options out there these days… seems like ESPN would do better to charge double and have half as many commercials. The advertisers might get more bang for their buck.
      The outdoor mask wearing is also really irritating.

      • Yup. Every game I want to watch I DVR and start about an hour late. This way I can fast forward through the commercials and just watch the game. Not only the social justice commercials but all the other commercials are lame too.

    • “Saturation point” is a perfect term to describe the problem. We are overrun with an onslaught of football from Thanksgiving through Valentines Day. Each game overhyped, promising thrills, and most fall far short in actuality. We are entertained…TO DEATH. We start with snoozer Thanksgiving day games, followed by obscure bowl games every day for a month, we see a mirage of a finish line at the college playoff finale, only to be greeted with another month of nfl playoffs, ending with incessant draft hype. Holy crap! I’m worn out with that much football. I need more variety. I enjoy watching football, but not continuously forevermore. This is sensory overload. We have certainly hit a saturation point.

  2. In my opinion the lack of a crowd lessens the entertainment value of the overall game experience. The crowd impacts momentum, builds suspense, creates advantages or disadvantages, and enhances the emotion of the game. With no crowd or noise, there’s no pageantry and the general atmosphere of the games are much less exciting than normal. I think that’s bad for tv. Until you bring crowds back it’s like you’re trying to replicate a secret recipe without using a main ingredient.

  3. Other than an occasional score check I’ve not watched a CFB Natty in quite some time. Vince Young is probly the last one.

    For starters put the game on sometime besides 9 PM Eastern on a Monday night, kick it off at 5 PM on a Saturday. Secondly, and this is the tricky part, figure out a way to not have the exact same teams in it every single year. I don’t think that’s gonna happen. At least college football Is frontloaded, the regular season is actually better than the postseason. Will always have those 12 weeks, I think it’s time to deemphasize the postseason. Get back to just playing ball games and let the AP pick a champion. The playoff had become a caricature.

  4. My daughter graduated from Ohio State so I had a vested interest in the Buckeyes. It became clear OSU’s defense had no answer for Bama’s offense and we put on a movie at halftime. The Big 10 got it wrong on Covid and the PAC-12 isn’t even worthy to even talk about. We are all sick of the Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State triumvirate with occasional crumbs thrown to Oklahoma and Notre Dame, but college football is becoming a monopoly and nobody cares anymore.

    • You’re absolutely right. Fans of the sport grow tired of the same teams year after year. College football seems to be the only sport where it’s difficult for a new team to break through. And the rich seem to get richer every year – witness the recruiting grades for the current season. As for when the game is played, I think a Friday evening leading into the NFL playoffs would be better.

  5. Let’s get rid of the playoff and go back to meaningful bowl games outside of the CFP. Players are opting out and it has marginalized all of the other great bowl games. College football isn’t the nfl. Goal should be conf championship and bowl win against a competing conference. It is best for us and best for college football.

  6. Alabama fatigue, woke BS, cable cutters, it’s on a fucking Monday, expand the playoffs to 16 teams, fuck ESPN, it wasn’t even close. We all know one or two teams every few years can “challenge” Alabama. I’m an SEC grad and I am tired of watching the same Alabama movie over and over and over. It’s boring. It will be this way until Saban retires. Good for Bama though.

  7. Although I watched some college football this year, I cut the cable cord a few weeks back in large part to stop subsidizing ESPN. So I’m happy to see their ratings tank. Maybe other fans were disgusted with how OSU whined their way into a game they obviously had no business playing. Again, all good but the network executives will learn nothing.

  8. 1. Lack of competition. College football is far too top heavy. It’s one of 3-4 teams every year who have all the talent, and everyone else has no chance. That’s boring.
    2. Fan Fatigue. The playoff takes too long. We’ve got college football overlapping NFL playoffs now. I hear people clamoring for expanding the playoffs, when I think It’s dragging out too long. Remember the great days when all bowls were on New Year’s Day? Now there’s a bowl every day for 3-4 weeks. Fans are worn out and ready to turn the page.
    3. No crowd. I explained this earlier. The atmosphere and drama of the game is lessened with no crowd in attendance.
    4. ESPN. If you didn’t notice, in 2020 ESPN went full on woke. Most Americans hate that attitude and kicked ESPN to the curb because of it. You can’t antagonize your audience and expect a good result. They lost A LOT of viewers in 2020.

  9. College football is my favorite sport, but I did not watch the championship game. I’m just tired of the same teams getting to the Final Four; it’s just not interesting. This won’t be solved until they expand the playoffs; the best recruits want to go to schools that can compete for a national title. Right now, Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State get most of the 5-star athletes. It’s like if the NFL gave certain teams 4 first-round draft picks every year; eventually those teams would dominate the sport.

    • I agree with expanding the playoffs but still think you will end up with pretty much the same final 4 teams every year. I don’t get how anyone can possibly consider Saban as some great coach. Almost every single game he coaches in he has a decisive talent advantage. When he coached in the NFL and faced teams with equal talent he was awful. Not sure there is an answer but all the top players in the country will continue to go to Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma etc…and they will continue to be the final 4 teams. To them I say congratulations, you beat teams that didn’t nearly have the talent you have. What a great achievement… Enjoy your playoff games but I won’t be watching.

      • You are correct; Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State have a tremendous talent advantage every time they walk on the field. You don’t have to be a great coach to win there. I think Urban Meyer will find that out in Jacksonville; he won’t get first choice on all the talented players, like he did at Ohio State and Florida.

  10. First-timer. I’ve been watching CFB for a long time. I was a long time HS football coach so I took an interest. The frustrating thing for me is that at all other non-professional levels, championships are earned in the field except for the highest division in CFB where opinion trumps performance. We spend too much time debating “resumes”, “brands”, and “strength of schedules”. Currently the playoff system has five “power conferences” and the “group of five”. Only problem is the “group of five” have to earn their consideration among the “opinion” committee. A sixteen team playoff system would seem to satisfy everybody and rely less on opinion and more on performance. Take only the conference champions from the “Power Five” and the “Group of Five”. That leaves six at-large bids for conference runners up and independents (Notre Dame). Only thing left up for debate is at-large bids and seedings. Use the existing bowl structure. Growing up, New Year’s Day bowls were Rose, Orange, Sugar, and Cotton Bowls. Next tier was Peach, Fiesta, Gator, Liberty, Citrus and so on. With the opt-outs we saw this year, I could understand an athlete not wanting to play in the Chee-zit Bowl, Duke’s Mayo Bowl or some such game. As for the Group of Five, I think the games with Cincinnati and Georgia makes a statement that these teams can be competitive. But that’s just my “opinion”.

    PS. Great site.

  11. This game is , much like this season, an exception to the rule. Sports suck this year. I think the NCAA is relived as much as anything else that they got this season across the finish line. If these two teams play in this game next year, the ratings will be higher for sure. All the numbers will go up next year with a normal season.

  12. For the Bama haters out there I would remind you Saban took over a dumpster fire at Alabama. Over a decade of sub 500 ball and a coaching carousel indicative of a losing program. He rebuilt the program through great recruiting of blue chip athletes and excellent coaches. Saban’s “The Process” coaching philosophy brought back the elite aura around the program.

    I think Rick Flair said it best. “If you want to be the man you have to beat the man.” Now quit your bitching and get to work. DBAP

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