Ratings Roundup: ESPN’s CFP National Championship Up 13%; NFL Wild Card Games See Big Dip

Ratings roundup is a rundown of ratings news from the past week and is derived from press releases and reports around the industry. In this week’s edition, ESPN’s CFP National Championship ranks as the second most-watched cable telecast in history, The NFL’s Wild Card Game ratings were down across the board, ESPN matches its best regular season rating in nearly two years with Celtics-Cavaliers, ESPN and Sportsnet report their year-end viewership numbers, and First Take gets off to a huge start to 2018 for ESPN.

ESPN’s presentation of the Georgia-Alabama College Football Playoff National Championship averaged 28,443,000 viewers on its Nielsen-rated networks (ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU as part of its MegaCast production), up 13% from last year and good for the second most-watched cable telecast in history. The game was also up 9% from ESPN’s MegaCast presentation (ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU) of the second CFP National Championship (January 11, 2016). For Georgia-Alabama, the ESPN-only telecast averaged 27,383,000 million viewers. The College Football Playoff Era has delivered ESPN the four biggest audiences in cable history and seven of the top 10 with the 2015 CFP National Championship (Oregon/Ohio State) atop the leaderboard with 33,917,000 viewers.

The audience peaked at 30,759,000 viewers late in the first half (9:30 – 10 p.m.) and more than 28.4 million viewers were watching as Alabama scored its game-winning, national championship-winning touchdown

Birmingham was the No. 1 rated market, with an astounding 57.6 overnight. Atlanta also had a record-breaking audience. All market information was distributed this morning and can be found here.

ESPN’s entire presentation of the three game College Football Playoff  averaged an 26,266,000 viewers, up 21% from last year’s three-game presentation. In addition to the championship game, each of the two CFP Semifinals were also up year-over-year individually as well.

This Season’s New Year’s Six + CFP National Championship to Become Most-Watched in Current Era
Factoring in the entire New Year’s Six, the seven games (New Year’s Six + CFP National Championship) averaged over 17 million viewers, the best ever in the four years of the new system. The seven-game average was up 10% from last year’s same seven games and 25% from the 2015 season’s slate.

ESPN’s presentation of the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Rose Bowl Game (Oklahoma/Georgia) on New Year’s Day delivered an audience of 26,826,000 viewers (ESPN +ESPN2), up 39% from last season’s first CFP Semifinal on the same two networks and 71% from the 2015 season’s first CFP Semifinal, also on ESPN and ESPN2.

The Allstate Sugar Bowl between Clemson and Alabama (9 p.m.) averaged 21,117,000 viewers, (ESPN and ESPN2), up 10% from last season’s second CFP Semifinal, also on ESPN and ESPN2, and 13% from the 2015’s season second  CFP Semifinal on the same two networks.

This season’s two CFP Semifinals averaged  24,590,000 viewers, up 27% from last year and 44% from the 2015 season. Individually, both games rank as the third and fourth most-viewed CFP Semifinals ever, trailing only the two record-breaking CFP Semifinals from the inaugural year.

The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl between UCF and Auburn (12:30 p.m., Jan 1 on ESPN) delivered  8,377,00 viewers, the most-watched non-CFP Semifinal Peach Bowl in the New Year’s Six Era. The game was up 49% from the 2015 season game and 67% from the 2014 season game. The 2016 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl was a CFP Semifinal.

This year, all non-CFP Semifinal New Year’s Six Games set new viewership records. The Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, Capital One Orange Bowl and Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl delivered their most-watched game of the New Year’s Six era, except for the year their game was a CFP Semifinal.

NFL Wild Card Round Sees Ratings Dip

Saturday’s Falcons-Rams NFC Wild Card had a 12.8 rating and 22.8 million viewers on NBC, down 14% in ratings and 15% in viewership from last year (Lions-Seahawks: 14.8, 26.9M) and down 27% in both measures from 2015 on CBS (Steelers-Bengals: 17.5, 31.2M). Including streaming, it had 23.0 million — still down 15% from last year (27.1M). (SMW)

ESPN Concludes College Football Post Season Up 11% 
In addition, The Outback Bowl (Michigan/South Carolina) had an audience of 5,050,000 viewers, up 79% from the 2015 Outback Bowl, the last time the game aired on ESPN2. It is the second most-viewed Outback Bowl on ESPN2. And the Citrus Bowl (LSU/Notre Dame) had an audience of 8,713,000 viewers, up 36% from last year’s game (LSU vs. Louisville). Overall, ESPN’s postseason schedule, consisting of 35 games plus the CFP National Championship, averaged 5,682,000 viewers, up 11% from last year’s similar slate.

NFL Wild Card Games See Big Dip
Sunday’s Panthers-Saints NFC Wild Card Game had a 17.5 rating and 31.2 million viewers on FOX, down 18% in ratings and 21% in viewership from Giants-Packers last year (21.3, 39.3M) and down 20% in both measures from Green Bay-Washington in 2016 (21.8, 38.9M). The 17.5 rating is the lowest for the late Sunday Wild Card game since Titans-Chargers on CBS ten years ago (16.7). (SMW)

Sunday’s Bills-Jaguars AFC Wild Card had a 15.15 rating and 25.3 million viewers on CBS, down 13% in ratings and 15% in viewership from last year (Dolphins-Steelers: 17.5, 29.9M) and down 28% in both measures from 2015 on NBC (Seahawks-Vikings: 21.0, 35.4M). The Jaguars’ win was the lowest rated and least-watched Sunday Wild Card game since Ravens-Dolphins in 2009 (15.0, 23.4M). (SMW)

Saturday’s Falcons-Rams NFC Wild Card had a 12.8 rating and 22.8 million viewers on NBC, down 14% in ratings and 15% in viewership from last year (Lions-Seahawks: 14.8, 26.9M) and down 27% in both measures from 2015 on CBS (Steelers-Bengals: 17.5, 31.2M). Including streaming, it had 23.0 million — still down 15% from last year (27.1M). (SMW)

Saturday’s Titans-Chiefs AFC Wild Card earned a 13.0 rating and 22.2 million viewers across the ESPN family of networks, per Nielsen fast-nationals — down 10% and 14% respectively from last year (Raiders-Texans: 14.4, 25.63M) and down 12% and 14% respectively from 2016 (Chiefs-Texans: 14.8, 25.60M). (SMW)

Visit SportsMediaWatch.com for more in-depth analysis of the NFL Playoffs ratings.

ESPN’s Celtics-Cavaliers Telecast Matches Best Regular Season Rating in Nearly Two Years
ESPN’s telecast of the Boston Celtics victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Jan. 3 delivered a 2.4 metered market rating, according to Nielsen. It matches two Christmas telecasts as the highest-rated NBA regular season game on ESPN in nearly two years. The 2.4 rating is up 60 percent from a 1.5 rating for last year’s comparable game – Cleveland vs. Chicago. Last night’s telecast peaked with a 2.7 rating between 9:30-10 p.m. ET. In the Cleveland market, the game delivered a 6.2 rating, the best since a Cleveland-Miami matchup on ESPN drew a 6.4 on October 30, 2015. Wednesday’s telecast generated a 4.2 local rating in Boston, which is the second best rating on ESPN this season in the market.

 The last time ESPN drew a higher rating for an NBA regular season game was on April 13, 2016, when the Golden State Warriors set the all-time regular season wins record. That telecast drew a 2.7. Wednesday’s 2.4 rating is even with the Philadelphia-New York Christmas 2017 rating and the Boston-New York Christmas 2016 rating.

ESPN Sees Live Events Drive Audience Increases in 2017
ESPN’s 2017 viewership in prime time and in total day rose vs. 2016, while the network returned to its familiar spot atop cable networks in fourth quarter prime-time viewership and continued its streak of leading full-time cable networks in the key male demos to 18 consecutive quarters (4.5 years). In 2017, ESPN averaged 2,058,000 viewers (P2+) in prime time across TV and streaming, an increase of 7% over 2016.  ESPN grew its audience among men and adults 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54. ESPN also saw its total day viewership rise 1%.

In the fourth quarter, ESPN grew its audience 13% in prime to 3,052,000 viewers across TV and streaming, the best on cable, as it had accomplished from 1999 – 2015 before the aberration of last year’s political climate pushed ESPN to second place (behind Fox News).  Audiences also rose by a double-digit percentage among men and adults 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54.  ESPN’s total day viewership rose 9%. In addition, the recently completed quarter was the 18th straight in which ESPN led full-time cable networks in delivering the key male demographic groups advertisers covert:  men 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54.

Throughout 2017, ESPN’s industry-leading portfolio of rights to marquee live sporting events garnered noteworthy viewership superlatives and growth. NBA Finals on ABC:  most-watched NBA Finals since 1998 (playoffs before Finals up 5%). Pacquiao vs. Horn:  most-watched boxing telecast on cable television since 2006. College Football on ABC:  Saturday Night Football was the most-watched college football franchise among all networks in any time slot for the second consecutive year. College Football on ESPN/ESPN2:  ESPN/ ESPN2 – 47 of cable’s biggest 50 audiences for the sport. Monday Night Football (17 games in 16 weeks):  ESPN won the night among all networks in all key male and adult demos all 16 weeks. Men’s College World Series (16 games):  up 56%. MLB Home Run Derby:  up 55%. MLS Playoffs (seven games):  up 38% from 2016; championship game up 20% from 2015 (last time on ESPN). NCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship:  up 29%. US Open Women’s Final:  up 26% and the best in ESPN’s three years. Women’s College World Series (15 games):  up 21%. NBA Summer League (39 games):  up 18%. NBA (season to date, 20 games):  up 16% and up 23% among Adults 18-49. College Football’s “New Year’s Six” and the 2017 Championship Game:  up 15%. WNBA Finals (five games):  up 15%. NBA Draft:  up 14%. Little League World Series (32 games):  up 12%. US Open:  up 8%. NCAA Men’s Basketball:  Saturday nights up 8%; Tuesday & Thursday nights both up 6%. Wimbledon Gentlemen’s Final:  up 6%.

Sportsnet Is No. 1 in Canada’s for Third Straight Year
For the third consecutive year, Sportsnet ranked as Canada’s #1 specialty network and #1 sports media brand.  For the period of January 1 to December 31, 2017, all Sportsnet networks collectively* delivered a 5.2 audience share and an average minute audience of 193,000,marking a 29% lead over its closest competitor and solidifying Sportsnet’s position as the top sports media brand in the country.  In addition, Sportsnet** captured the largest share (3.7) and average minute audience (138,000) of any Canadian specialty network. In addition to being Canada’s #1 specialty network overall, Sportsnet is also #1 with female and millennial audiences for both share and average minute audience.

 The prime-time edition of Sportsnet Central was the most-watched sports news program in 2017, delivering an average minute audience 48% higher than its closest competitor. Sportsnet’s Hockey Central national pre-game show has grown 60% year-over-year and outperforms its closest competitor by 147%, solidifying Sportsnet’s roster of hockey experts as the go-to source for opinion and analysis.

For the 2017-18 NHL season to-date,Hockey Night in Canada Game 1 is up 5%, Hockey Night in Canada Game 2 is up 2%, Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey is up 31%, Calgary Flames regional broadcasts are up 17%, Toronto Maple Leafs regional broadcasts are up 2%. When including Sportsnet’s Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts that air simultaneously on City and CBC, the overall audience share for Sportsnet-produced programming in 2017 increases to 6.6 from 5.2. The 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs delivered an overall average minute audience of 1.61 million on Sportsnet and CBC channels, marking a 94% increase over the2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Top 10 broadcasts of the year on Sportsnet were all from the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with Game 6 of the Washington vs. Toronto first round series being the most-watched hockey game in Sportsnet history, reaching 8.4 million Canadians.

On the digital front, 3.22 million Canadians visited Sportsnet digitally each month in 2017, jumping two spots to #4 on the most-visited sports websites in Canada. April 2017 was the highest month in Sportsnet.ca history with 4.5 million unique visitors, with NHL playoffs and the start of the Blue Jays season. Based on current 2017 year-to-date data, the Sportsnet App has experienced a 35% year-over-year growth in average monthly unique visitors and set an all-time record in the month of April with 498,000 unique visitors. With more exclusive content and the ability to access the sports fans love from anywhere on any mobile device, Sportsnet NOW has experienced a 35% increase in paid subscribers over this time last year.

ESPN’s First Take Kicks off 2018 by Equaling Highest-Rated Show Ever
On Tuesday, Jan. 2, ESPN’s First Take equaled its highest-rated show ever with a 0.6 household rating, tied for its best ever with November 4 and January 16 of 2017 and January 10, 2016.  On the same Tuesday a year ago, First Take moved to ESPN from ESPN2 and rated a strong 0.5. The day also ranks third in audience with an average of 823,000 viewers (P2+), behind December 30, 2013 (880,000), and January 16, 2017 (851,000). This record-tying rating comes after First Take capped off 2017 with its most-viewed year ever (449,000 viewers, P2+), up 25% from 2016. In addition, for the fourth quarter of 2017, the show ranked #1 on cable for the 10 a.m. to noon ET slot for key demos, men 18-34 and men 18-49.

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