Tuesday October 3, 2023

ESPN Enjoys High Bowl Viewership Despite Rose, Cotton Bowl Flops

  • The CFP semifinals drew high viewership, while the Rose and Cotton bowls suffered historic lows.
  • More than a dozen non-NY6 bowls notched more than 2 million viewers.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Front Office Sports Today

NBC Could Get In On College Football Playoffs

NBC is exploring broadcasting a slice of the expanded CFP in 2026.
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October 3, 2023 | Podcast
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The new 12-team College Football Playoff structure is on its way in two years. But in the meantime, the existing system continues to show its might.

The New Year’s Six and the rest of the bowl season drew impressive television numbers, despite disappointing showings for the Rose and Cotton bowls.

The NY6 bowls have returned to their pre-pandemic popularity — averaging 13 million viewers, according to ESPN. That’s more than any of the last three seasons.


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More than a dozen non-NY6 bowls notched more than 2 million viewers, suggesting value in bowl games whose relevance has been questioned. And ESPN’s back-to-back coverage of the CFP semifinals — the Peach and Fiesta Bowls — averaged 21.7 million viewers, which was the most in five years.

But the New Year’s Six wasn’t without some major ratings disappointment.

Despite Tulane’s thrilling and historic last-second win over USC, the Cotton Bowl drew an average of about 4.17 million viewers. That’s the lowest Cotton Bowl turnout since 2005, according to SportsMediaWatch. Multiple non-NY6 matchups usurped it.

The Rose Bowl drew an average of 10.19 million viewers, a whopping three million fewer than its previous low, per SportsMediaWatch. While the game wasn’t in its normal New Year’s Day slot, previous viewership on Jan. 2 had never been that bad. 

Non-NY6 bowls, on the other hand, were a success story.

For example, the Gator Bowl between South Carolina and Notre Dame drew 5.8 million viewers. It’s the highest non-NY6 rating since 2015-16 and the best Gator Bowl since Jan 16. The Celebration Bowl between North Carolina Central and Jackson State — two FCS HBCU teams — also drew a historic high of 2.42 million viewers. 

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