Ratings on the Rise

    • The 2020 men’s sports calendar was marked by declining ratings, and college football was no exception.
    • But during college football's Week 1, both ESPN and Fox notched milestones compared with recent years.

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The 2020 men’s sports calendar was marked by declining ratings — and college football was no exception. But to say that ratings bounced back during this season’s Week 1 would be a major understatement. 

Excluding Bowl season, the most-viewed games in 2019 drew up to 16 million viewers, while only one game in 2020 even topped 10 million, according to SportsMediaWatch data compiled by The Athletic.

Despite this, the SEC negotiated a media deal with Disney/ESPN for $3 billion — showing confidence in college football’s popularity despite the dip. 

It looks like they were right. Whatever apathy fans felt last year has evaporated. Last week, both ESPN and Fox notched milestones compared with recent years. The high ratings suggest that deal wasn’t inflated, and it bodes well for the Big Ten and Pac-12 as they gear up to renegotiate their contracts.

Thursday’s Ohio State-Minnesota game was Fox’s most-watched Week 1 game in history, averaging 6.3 million viewers, the network announced. It also ranked in the top three for regular-season games on streaming.

On Saturday, ABC had its “best” triple-header since 2017, ESPN said. The most popular matchup, Georgia-Clemson, averaged about 8 million viewers, up 16% from 2019 and “on track” to be the second most-viewed “Kickoff Saturday” game in 15 years on any network. 

The triple-header included Oklahoma-Tulane — not exactly a marquee matchup. It definitely drew interest later in the game, however, as the unranked Green Wave made a run to beat the then-No. 2 Sooners less than one week after Hurricane Ida upended their season.

And on Sunday, the prime-time Notre Dame-FSU game on ABC averaged 7.1 million viewers, becoming the second-most-viewed “Opening Week Sunday” game since the network started keeping records in 1996.

Power 5 football “continued to dominate” ratings while other sports dipped, Octagon Senior Vice President of Global Media Rights Consulting, Daniel Cohen, told FOS in December. It looks like that sentiment is true now more than ever.