Ratings Roundup: BCS Bowls Down But Far From Out

As expected, the BCS bowls’ migration from broadcast to cable has resulted in a ratings dip. The decline, however, has not been as significant as many expected, which is good news for ESPN and its $500 million investment in the five BCS games (through 2014). Thus far, all four BCS telecasts are among ESPN’s top six college-football overnights ever, while the Orange and Sugar Bowls are nearly even with last year’s overnight ratings on broadcast.

The Rose Bowl kicked off the BCS season by pulling in 20.6 million viewers on New Year’s Day, making it the third-most-watched program in the history of cable television and the most-watched non-NFL program of all time. The 2011 “Granddaddy of Them All” becomes only the third cable program ever to log 20 million viewers, joining two Monday Night Football matchups: Packers-Vikings in October 2009 (21.8 million) and Patriots-Saints in November 2009 (21.4 million).  Nonetheless, the TCU-Wisconsin matchup’s 11.3 U.S. rating and 20.6 million viewers were each down 14% from last year (Ohio State-Oregon, 13.2, 24.025 million), when the game aired on ABC.

Later that day, the Fiesta Bowl notched a 7.1 rating and 10.8 million viewers, down 24% in ratings and 22% in viewership from last year (Boise State-TCU, 8.2, 13.820 million). While Oklahoma’s 48-20 blowout of Connecticut ranked as the second-lowest-rated BCS bowl of all time (after the 2009 Orange Bowl on Fox, 5.4), it gave ESPN its second-largest non-NFL audience in network history (likely to be surpassed by the Orange and Sugar Bowls and BCS Championship once final U.S. ratings are released next week). But the game narrowly beat out the Connecticut women’s basketball team’s 89th straight win on ESPN2, 18.4 to 18.1, in the Hartford, CT, area.

Judging by the early returns, the shift to cable did little detriment to the Orange Bowl’s ratings. Monday’s game put up a 7.1 overnight rating, down just 1% from last year (Iowa-Georgia Tech on Fox, 7.2) and actually up 20% from 2008 (Virginia Tech-Cincinnati on Fox, 5.9), which is the lowest-rated BCS game to date. However, the move to cable still played a factor as Stanford’s 40-12 shellacking of Virginia Tech was the third-lowest-rated BCS telecast ever, trailing only that 2008 Orange Bowl and this year’s Fiesta Bowl.

On Tuesday, the Sugar Bowl posted an 8.4 overnight rating, down just 3% from last year (Florida-Cincinnati on Fox, 8.7) and actually up 17% from last year’s Orange Bowl, which was played on the equivalent Tuesday night. Ohio State’s 31-26 victory over Arkansas trails only this year’s Rose Bowl as ESPN’s highest overnight rating for college football…

NBC’s Sunday Night Football finished the season as the No. 1 show in primetime, the first time on record (at least since 1987, most likely since the 1970s) that a sports series has been the most-watched show from the start of the primetime TV season to the end of the NFL regular season. SNF was the No. 1-rated program all 18 nights this season (16 Sundays, one Tuesday, and one Thursday), averaging 21.8 million viewers, up 12% from last year (19.4 million), and the best viewership for an NFL primetime broadcast package in 14 years…

MSG Network averaged a 2.02 household Nielsen rating in the New York market with its coverage of Knicks games in December. That was the highest monthly average since the 2004-05 season, when Nielsen instituted local people meters. The previous high since 2004 was January 2007, when MSGN scored a 1.59 household rating…

A record total of 6.6 million people in North America watched the NHL Winter Classic on NBC in the U.S. and on CBC and RDS in Canada. The previous best was 5.7 million average viewers for the 2009 game at Wrigley Field. The Classic drew an average of 1.8 million viewers on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada and 354,000 viewers for the French-language broadcast on RDS in Canada. The Classic was the most-viewed NHL regular-season game in the U.S. in 36 years with an average of 4.5 million viewers in primetime.