Ratings Roundup Special: College Football Bowl Season in Review

Another college bowl season is in the books, and that means it’s time to take a look at the ratings game. An up-and-down bowl season culminated with a disappointingly lopsided BCS Championship Game that, nonetheless, delivered solid ratings and viewership.

BCS Championship: Big-Name Programs Draw — Even in a Blowout
Despite Alabama’s 42-14 defeat of Notre Dame, the matchup between two storied programs pulled in a massive audience of 26.38 million viewers and scored a 15.1 household rating. That is the second-largest audience ever on cable television, trailing only the Auburn-Oregon 2011 BCS Championship on ESPN (27.32 million people and a 15.3 U.S. rating). The rating and viewership numbers were up 8% and 9%, respectively, compared with 2012’s BCS finale (16.2 and 24.21 million viewers).

The game averaged a 55.1 rating in Birmingham, AL, best of all metered markets, making it the third-highest-rated bowl game on the ESPN networks in this market (behind only the previous two BCS title games — 67.0 in 2011 and 61.2 last year).

BCS Bowls: ESPN Up 7% Over Last Year; Rose Down Slightly, Orange Up Big
As for ESPN’s BCS Bowl coverage overall, the network’s five BCS telecasts averaged 15.13 million viewers, up 7% from the previous year (14.08 million). The games averaged a 10.1 rating (8.8 U.S. rating) and 9.999 million homes, up 4% and 3%, respectively (9.8 coverage/8.4 U.S.; 9.68 million).

ESPN’s pair of New Year’s Day BCS Bowls logged a pair of solid outings — although the Rose Bowl was down from last year. The Rose Bowl (Stanford-Wisconsin) notched a 9.4 U.S. rating and 17.024 million viewers (down from a 10.2 and 17.6 million, respectively, last year), while the Orange Bowl (Florida State-Northern Illinois) that evening posted a 6.1 U.S. rating and averaged 10.56 million viewers (up from 4.5 and 7.2 million).

A day later, the Sugar Bowl (Louisville-Florida) averaged 10.125 million viewers and scored a 6.2 U.S. rating, both up 4% over last year. In the Louisville, KY, market, the Cardinals’ 33-23 victory was the highest-rated ESPN bowl game telecast on record (back to 2000) with a 28.4 average rating.

On Jan. 3, Oregon’s rout of Kansas State attracted a less-than-stellar Fiesta Bowl audience, delivering a 7.4 rating and 12.3 million viewers, down from 8.4 and 13.7 million last year.

Cotton Bowl Runs With the Big BCS Dogs
Fox also benefited from a big-name faceoff in bowl season, with the Texas A&M-Oklahoma matchup attracting 11.9 million viewers on Jan. 4, up 43% from Arkansas-Kansas State last year (8.4 million). The game ranks as the most-viewed Cotton Bowl since at least 2001 (viewership prior to 2002 is not available), topping the previous high set by LSU-Texas A&M in ’11. In addition, the game earned the largest non-BCS Bowl audience on any network since the 2011 Florida-Penn State Outback Bowl (12.4 million).

The Best of the Rest: Chick-fil-A, Outback, Capital One Bowls
ESPN posted its best non-BCS Bowl telecasts ever, when the New Year’s Eve telecast of the “Don’t-call-it-the-Peach-Bowl” Chick-fil-A Bowl (Clemson-LSU) averaged 8.56 viewers on a 5.6 household rating.

New Year’s Day may be known for the Grandaddy of Them All and the Orange Bowl, but two non-BCS Bowls, the Outback and Capital One Bowls (which switched networks and time slots this year), performed admirably on ESPN and ABC, respectively.

ESPN’s 2013 Outback Bowl telecast (South Carolina-Michigan) averaged 7.58 million viewers and posted a 4.3 U.S. rating, up 69% and 48%, respectively (vs. 4.5 million and a 2.9), over the network’s telecast of the 2012 Capital One Bowl in the same time slot. The Outback Bowl marked the fourth-highest-rated non-BCS Bowl for the network.

The Capital One Bowl on ABC (Georgia-Nebraska) averaged 10.95 million viewers on a 6.6 U.S. rating, up 35% in viewers and 29% in rating, respectively (vs. 8.13 million and 5.1), over the network’s coverage of the Outback Bowl in the same time slot in 2012.

Here is a roundup of the rest of the 2012-13 NCAA Bowl Games, all on ESPN unless otherwise noted (all numbers from SportsMediaWatch.com):

  • The GoDaddy.com Bowl (Arkansas State-Kent State) earned 1.9 million on Jan. 6, up 9% from Northern Illinois-Arkansas State last year (1.8 million).
  • BBVA Compass Bowl (Mississippi-Pittsburgh) drew 2.7 million viewers on Jan. 5, up 33% from SMU-Pittsburgh last year (2.0 million).
  • The Gator Bowl (Northwestern-Mississippi St.) earned 2.2 million viewers on ESPN2 on New Year’s Day, down 24% from Florida-Ohio State last year (2.9 million), down 21% from Mississippi State-Michigan in 2011 (2.8 million), and the least-viewed Gator Bowl since at least 2001.
  • The Fight Hunger Bowl (Navy-Arizona State) on ESPN2 attracted 1.1 million viewers on New Year’s Day, down 69% from Illinois-UCLA on ESPN last year (3.5 million) and 57% from Nevada-Boston College two years ago (2.5 million). It was the second-least-watched bowl of the season.
  • The Heart of Dallas Bowl (Oklahoma State-Purdue) was the lowest-rated and least-viewed game of the bowl season, attracting a 0.5 U.S. rating and 943,000 viewers to ESPNU.
  • The Liberty Bowl (Tulsa-Iowa State) drew 2.7 million viewers on New Year’s Eve, down 9% from Cincinnati-Vanderbilt on ABC in 2011 (3.0 million), down 43% from Central Florida-Georgia on ESPN in 2010 (4.8 million), and the smallest audience for the game since at least 2007.
  • Ratings and viewership for the Sun Bowl (the lone game not carried by ESPN/ABC) on CBS were not available.
  • The Music City Bowl (North Carolina State-Vanderbilt) drew 2.0 million viewers on New Year’s Eve, down 54% from Mississippi State-Wake Forest last year (4.2 million), down 73% from North Carolina-Tennessee in 2010 (7.1 million), and the smallest audience for the game since at least 2007.
  • The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (TCU-Michigan State) drew 4.4 million viewers on Dec. 29, down 8% from Oklahoma-Iowa in 2011 (4.8 million) and up 24% from Iowa-Missouri in 2010 (3.6 million).
  • The Alamo Bowl (Texas-Oregon State) earned 6.7 million viewers on Dec. 29, down 2% from Baylor-Washington in 2011 (6.9 million) but up 46% from Oklahoma State-Arizona in 2010 (4.6 million). The game ranked as ESPN’s 14th-most-viewed non-BCS Bowl game telecast.
  • The Armed Forces Bowl (Air Force-Rice) garnered 3.3 million viewers on ESPN on Dec. 29, up 61% from BYU-Tulsa the previous year (2.0 million), up 72% from Army-SMU in 2010 (1.9 million), and the most-viewed edition of the game since at least 2007 (viewership prior to 2008 is not available).
  • The Pinstripe Bowl (Syracuse-West Virginia) drew 5.1 million viewers on Dec. 29, the largest audience in the three-year history of the game and up 60% over Rutgers-Iowa State the previous year (3.2 million) and 49% from Syracuse-Kansas State in 2010 (3.5 million).
  • The Russell Athletic Bowl (Rutgers-Virginia Tech) attracted 3.9 million viewers on Dec. 28, down 25% from Florida State-Notre Dame the previous year (5.2 million) but up 21% from North Carolina State-West Virginia in 2010 (3.3 million).
  • The Independence Bowl (Louisiana Monroe-Ohio) drew 1.7 million viewers on Dec. 28, down 30% from Missouri-North Carolina in 2011 (2.5 million), down 22% from Air Force-Georgia Tech in 2010 (2.2 million), and the least-viewed edition of the game since Louisiana Tech-Northern Illinois in 2009 (1.2 million).
  • The Meineke Car Care Texas Bowl (Minnesota-Texas Tech) earned 4.6 million viewers on Dec. 28, up 17% from Texas A&M-Northwestern the previous year (3.9 million), up 9% from Illinois-Baylor in 2010 (4.2 million), and the largest audience in the six-year history of the game.
  • The Holiday Bowl (Baylor-UCLA) drew 2.9 million viewers on Dec. 27, down 31% from Texas-California in 2011 (4.2 million) and off 48% from Washington-Nebraska in 2010 (5.7 million). The telecast ranks as the least-watched Holiday Bowl since at least 2007.
  • The Belk Bowl (Cincinnati-Duke) earned 3.9 million viewers on Dec. 27, up 12% from North Carolina State-Louisville in 2011 (3.5 million) and 33% from South Florida-Clemson in 2010 (2.9 million). The game ranks as the most-viewed edition of the bowl (previously, the Meineke Car Care Bowl) since 2009.
  • The Military Bowl (San Jose State-Bowling Green) drew 1.9 million viewers on Dec. 27, down 17% from Toledo-Air Force in 2011 (2.3 million), down 11% from Maryland-ECU in 2010 (2.1 million), and a record low for the five-year-old game.
  • The Little Caesars Bowl (Western Kentucky-Central Michigan) drew 2.7 million viewers on Dec. 26, up 7% from Purdue-Western Michigan in 2011 (2.5 million), up 23% from Florida International-Toledo in 2010 (2.2 million), and the most-viewed edition of the game since 2010.
  • The Hawaii Bowl (SMU-Fresno State) earned 2.4 million viewers on Dec. 24, down 2% from Southern Mississippi-Nevada in 2011 (2.5 million) and 34% from Tulsa-Hawaii in 2010 (3.7 million). The game ranks as the least-viewed Hawaii Bowl since 2007.
  • The Las Vegas Bowl (Boise State-Washington) drew 4.4 million viewers on Dec. 22, up 41% from Boise State-Arizona State last year (3.1 million) but down 17% from Boise State-Utah in 2010 (5.4 million).
  • The New Orleans Bowl (Louisiana Lafayette-East Carolina) drew 2.6 million viewers on Dec. 22, up 12% from UL Lafayette-San Diego State in 2011 (2.3 million), up 26% from Troy-Ohio in 2010 (2.096 million), and the largest audience for the game since at least 2006.
  • The Beef O’Brady’s St. Petersburg Bowl (Central Florida-Ball State) earned 1.9 million viewers on Dec. 21, down 12% from Marshall-Florida International the previous year (2.2 million) and 36% from Louisville-Southern Missisippi in 2010 (3.0 million). The game ranks as the least-viewed edition of the St. Petersburg Bowl since the inaugural edition in 2008.
  • The Poinsettia Bowl (BYU-San Diego State) drew 2.2 million viewers on Dec. 20, down 29% from TCU-Louisiana Tech in 2011 (3.1 million) and down 38% from San Diego State-Navy in 2010 (3.6 million). The game ranks as the least-viewed Poinsettia Bowl since at least 2006.
  • The opening two bowls on Dec. 15 — the New Mexico Bowl (Arizona-Nevada) and Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (Utah State-Toledo) — logged 2.6 million and 2.8 million viewers, respectively.