Ratings Roundup: CFP National Championship Game Flops; NFL Wildcard Weekend Posts Huge Success

Ratings roundup is a rundown of rating news from the past week and is derived from press releases and reports around the industry. In this week’s edition, the National Championship game posted the worst ratings in the CFP era, NFL Wildcard weekend improves over last year’s showing, First Take’s live episode in Dallas posted a double-digit increase, YES Network concluded the year as the most-watched RSN in the nation, ESPN reflects on their 2018 cable presence, and the Golf Channel came close to history.

Photo by Scott Clarke/ESPN Images

Clemson Blowout Diminishes Viewership on College Football’s Greatest Stage
The 2019 College Football Playoff Nationa Championship game had a bit of an entertaining start, but when Clemson began pulling away, ratings dipped dramatically.

According to SportsMediaWatch, Monday’s Clemson-Alabama College Football Playoff National Championship had a 13.8 rating and 25.28 million viewers across ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and ESPNEWS, down 12% in ratings and 11% in viewership from Alabama-Georgia last year (15.6, 28.44M). Compared to the same Clemson-Alabama matchup in 2017, ratings fell 3% but viewership increased a fraction of a percent (14.2, 25.27M). Prior figures do not include ESPNEWS, which was not a Nielsen rated network from 2016-18.

Clemson’s blowout win, which peaked with 27.84 million during the first half, ranks as the third-least watched national championship in 11 years — since LSU-Ohio State on Fox in 2008 (23.1M) — and the seventh-least watched in the CFP/Bowl Championship Series era (21 games).

The 13.8 rating is tied as the second-lowest for any national championship in the CFP/BCS era, matching Miami-Nebraska in 2002 and ahead of USC-Oklahoma in 2005 (13.7).

Clemson-Alabama completed a clean sweep of declines for the College Football Playoff. All three games declined double-digits from last year, when the semifinals took place on New Year’s Day. Notably, the national championship had a lower rating and fewer viewers than last year’s New Year’s Day Rose Bowl, a playoff semifinal (Georgia-Oklahoma: 13.7, 26.91M).

It should be noted that none of this year’s three games were competitive, with Clemson’s two wins decided by four touchdowns.

Despite the declines, Monday’s game still earned a larger audience than every game of last year’s World Series, every game of the last two NBA Finals, and every game of the last three NCAA men’s basketball tournaments. It trounced last year’s Villanova-Michigan men’s basketball championship on Turner Sports, which had a 9.2 and 16.0 million.

Across ESPN and ESPN2, Monday’s game had a 7.8 rating in adults 18-49 (-12%), a 6.3 in adults 18-34 (-16%) and an 8.8 in adults 25-54 (-11%).

Although the game received negative feedback, the game had some highlights. The ESPN MegaCast generated a Nielsen reported audience of 25.2 million viewers. Also, on Championship Monday, 941 million minutes were consumed across ESPN Digital platforms (game and non-game), up 10% from last season’s Championship Monday.

First Weekend of NFL Playoffs Makes 113.6 Million Fans Go Wild
The NFL has disclosed their ratings of the first four games of the NFL postseason during Wildcard weekend. Saturday’s slate brought in 52.3 million fans, with Indianapolis vs. Houston with 22.8 million on ABC, ESPN, and ESPN Digital and Dallas vs. Seattle with 29.5 million on Fox and Fox Digital. On Sunday’s day two, 61.3 million fans watched the doubleheader with 25.4 million for Los Angeles vs. Baltimore and 35.9 million for Philadelphia vs. Chicago. The total amount for both days accumulated to 113.6 million, an average of 28.4 million per game and an increase of +12% respectively compared to last year’s 2018 Wild Card weekend average (25.3 million). On digital, the overall 2019 Wild Card average across 4 games is a 496K AMA, up +139% versus last year’s 2018 Wild Card average (208K).

Here are more numbers from each individual game:

  • On Fox, Cowboys-Seahawks was the most streamed NFL playoff game ever on Fox digital with 580,445 average minute audience and +123% more than last year’s Panthers-Saints matchup (261,000). It was also the most-watched NFL Wildcard game in Fox Deportes history with 106,000 viewers
  • Sunday’s Chargers-Ravens AFC Wild Card game had a 15.4 rating on CBS, up 2% in ratings and a fraction of a percent in viewership from last year (Bills-Jaguars: 15.2, 25.3M), but down 7% and 12% respectively from 2016 (Dolphins-Steelers: 17.5, 29.9M) (SMW)
  • ESPN’s showing of Colts-Texans earned a 13.5 rating.  The Colts’ easy win, which peaked with 26.4 million from 7-7:30 PM ET, ranks third out of the five Wild Card games that have aired on ESPN. It was just the second of those five to post an increase over the previous year. Across all networks, it was the fifth-least watched NFL playoff game in the past decade. Three of the bottom five have aired on the ESPN family of networks, with the caveat that NFL assigns ESPN the weakest playoff window each year (SMW)
  • Eagles-Bears on NBC averaged 35.89 million TV-only viewers, ranking as NBC’s most-watched NFL Wild Card on record, topping the prior high set by the Seattle Seahawks-Houston Oilers AFC Wild Card game which went to overtime on Jan. 3, 1988 (35.86 million). NBC’s Wild Card viewership was up 15% from the game in the same time slot last year (31.1 million, Panthers-Saints on Fox). The game peaked at 45.1 million viewers for the exciting conclusion from 7:45-7:54 p.m. ET. Sunday’s game (4:41 p.m.-7:54 p.m. ET) registered a national TV household rating of 19.7/38. On NBC Sports Digital, the matchup delivered its best-ever NFL Wild Card viewership for Sunday’s game as fans consumed 105.2 million live streaming minutes with an Average Minute Audience (AMA) of 533,000 viewers across NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app, and NFL Digital platforms.

First Take Live in Dallas
The Friday, Jan. 4, edition of ESPN’s popular morning debate show First Take — featuring Stephen A. Smith, Max Kellerman, and host Molly Qerim Rose — was up 15% in viewership over the comparable episode in 2018 with an average of 510,000 viewers, according to Nielsen. It was also up 6% over First Take’s average viewership in December. The show from Texas Live! in Arlington kicked off NFL Wild Card weekend which included the Dallas Cowboys hosting the Seattle Seahawks.

The telecast marked the third recent visit to Texas Live! which also included a November 29 trip by Smith ahead of the Cowboys hosting the New Orleans Saints and a November 5 show for the entire team as part of First Take’s road trip. The three shows combined were up 9% in viewership over the comparable average in 2018.

The January 4 edition was also up double digits across many key demos over the comparable episode in 2018 including men 18-34 (up 35%), people 18-49 (up 22%) and others.

YES Networks Stands Tall Atop RSN Mountain
At the end of 2018, YES Network is leading the RSN business as the most-watched in the country for the 14th time in the last 16 years. Fans consumed 6.6 billion minutes of Yankees game action in the calendar year.

For an entire breakdown of the year, click HERE.

ESPN on Cable in 2018
Continuing historic streaks, ESPN led full-time cable television networks among the key male demographic groups for the 22nd consecutive quarter and the 13th straight year (since 2006). Among cable sports networks, ESPN2 was second among Men 18-34 and 18-49 to ESPN as it has been each and every year since its 1993 debut.

Overall in 2018, ESPN aired cable’s nine most-viewed shows and 18 of the top 20. (15 minutes or longer, January 1 – December 30)

On 60 occasions in 2018 – more than once per week, ESPN or sports programming on ABC provided advertisers the biggest audience of the night among Adults 18-49 across television. That number was the most of any network group. Among Men 18-49, the number was 83, also the most in the industry by a wide margin.

Here are sports specific notes in this quarter

  • Monday Night Football was once again cable’s most-watched series for the year with a resurgent season, an 8% increase in audience, the biggest increase of any of the league’s network partners. The audience was ESPN’s highest since 2015 and included its highest game rating since 2015 (Chiefs at Rams). ESPN won the night across broadcast and cable every week in overall audience (P2+), households and in all the key male and adult demos.
  • The NBA’s opening week was the best in four years, and the five-game Christmas slate across ABC and ESPN was the most-viewed since 2011. For the NBA season to date, ESPN has aired seven of cable’s top 10 games by audience size, including its highest-rated non-Christmas regular season game in four years and two on one night, Thanksgiving Eve. The October 10 matchup of Golden State and the L.A. Lakers is ESPN’s highest-rated and most-watched NBA pre-season game of all time (1.3 rating, 1.98 million viewers).
  • College Football on ESPN/ESPN2: ESPN once again set the pace among all cable networks, airing the 17 most-watched regular-season cable games. Combined with ESPN2, the networks aired 46 of the top 50 and 83 of the top 100. Also, College GameDay was up 3% including its second-most-watched show in seven years. In addition, the Heisman Trophy Presentation earned its biggest rating since 2015. For bowls, New Years Six and College Football Playoff information: here.
  • Crawford vs. Benavidez: The Welterweight Championship on ESPN in October was the most-watched and highest-rated boxing match on TV in 2018, broadcast or cable. For the year, ESPN aired three of the five highest-rated bouts.

Golf Channel Ties for Most-Watched Year in Its History
In 2018, NBC Sports Group’s golf coverage reached new heights, highlighted by Golf Channel tying its most-watched year ever for Total Audience Delivery (TAD), drawing a total day audience of 108,000 viewers per minute (Mon-Sun, 24-hours) across linear and streaming with an increase of 7% vs. 2017. The 2018 TAD tied 2013 viewership, when Tiger Woods was Player of the Year and won five PGA TOUR events. Other year-end highlights include:

  • NBC delivered its most-watched PGA TOUR season in 12 years (3.66 million viewers per minute), up 54% vs. comparable coverage in 2017 and +66% for Persons 25-54.
  • Golf Channel’s live PGA TOUR coverage in 2018 was its most-watched ever, up 22% vs. 2017 with average viewers, up 29% with Persons 25-54.
  • Across NBC Sports’ golf coverage, 77 million unique viewers watched Golf Channel or NBC in 2018, +4% vs. 2017.
  • Golf Channel was the No. 1 single-sport network for six months of 2018, and ranked amongst the top-two for all of 2018.
  • Golf Channel’s total day delivery exceeded 100,000 average viewers for the third consecutive year, a first in the network’s 24-year history. Golf Channel has posted its eight best viewership years since joining NBC Sports Group in 2011.
  • Golf Channel delivered the most-affluent primetime audience in television and is ranked second for most-affluent total day audience in television.
  • Golf Central delivered its most-watched year ever, up 15% vs. 2017 and up 8% vs. 2013, the previous best year.
  • Golf Channel set best year ever marks for all key digital metrics in 2018, including minutes streamed, video starts, page views, and monthly unique visitors.

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