This fall, the college football season never attracted the ridiculous viewership numbers we typically see on Saturdays across the season, which included both semifinals failing to hit 20 million viewers and the entire slate of conference championship games falling short of ten million viewers. The floor for the College Football Playoff National Championship had been set at 25 million viewers, with every prior game at least hitting that mark.
Unfortunately for the larger college football world, the floor was lowered by Alabama’s 52-24 destruction of Ohio State on Monday night. The game drew a total of 18.654 million viewers across ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU, down big from every prior title game in the Playoff era and down a tick from both of this year’s semifinals as well.
The previous low came back for the game back in January of 2017, when Clemson’s win over Alabama drew 25.226 million viewers. This year’s number is down 27% from last year’s LSU-Clemson matchup, which drew 25.588 million viewers.
This is not only an all-time low for the Playoff era, its also lower than every BCS title game that took place in the nearly two decades before the Playoff came to be. Per Sports Media Watch’s excellent archive, the least watched BCS National Championship game was USC’s defenestration of Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl back in 2005, which drew 21.419 million viewers.
College football is also just the latest sport to see its premier event experience a massive decline or record-low, along with the Masters, World Series, and NBA Finals, among others. Will college football’s power brokers implement changes to the Playoff after this season of poor viewership, or will they simply chalk it up to the pandemic and other political factors and hope for a better season next fall? I’d assume it’ll be the latter, especially since there’s a built-in excuse for poor semifinal viewership in the next two seasons: the semifinals will take place on New Year’s Eve in both 2021 (a Friday) and 2022 (a Saturday).