ESPN Fails to Score With ‘New Year’s Six’

With the College Football Playoff between Alabama and Clemson game set to kick off today (Jan. 11) in primetime (see Content), it’s a good time to dive into the Nielsen numbers for ESPN’s CFP semifinal matches and the “New Year’s Six” bowls.

It’s become common knowledge at this point that the decision to play the two semifinal games — the Orange and Cotton bowls — on New Year’s Eve didn’t work.

The first semifinal game — the Orange Bowl, in which favored Clemson defeated Oklahoma by 20 points — drew a 4.7 rating among adults 18-49 and more than 15.6 million total viewers for the 4:10 p.m. (ET) telecast. Last year’s comparable game — the Jan. 1, 2014, Rose Bowl, in which Oregon defeated Florida State — drew an 8.3 rating among 18-49s and more than 15.6 million total viewers for a 5:09 p.m. (ET) kickoff.

Oklahoma-Clemson viewership was down 44% from Florida State-Oregon in both adults 18-49 and total viewers, per a Ratings Intelligence analysis of Nielsen data.

As for the primetime semifinal games, Alabama’s 38-0 pasting of Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl drew a 5.5 rating among adults 18-49 and 18.6 million total viewers. That’s compared to the 8.9 rating among 18-49s (down 38%) and 28.3 million total viewers (down 34%) for the Jan. 1, 2014, Sugar Bowl game in which Ohio State bested a favored Crimson Tide squad.

That being said, not all was lost for ESPN and the New Year’s Six. Non-playoff New Year’s Six games, including the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl and the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl, were up this season from last:

• The Jan. 1 Fiesta Bowl (Notre Dame vs. Ohio State) averaged a 2.8 adults 18-49 rating and almost 9.8 million total viewers, compared with a 2.2 rating and 7.4 million total viewers for the Dec. 31, 2014, game (Boise State vs. Arizona). That’s a 24% increase in adults 18-49 and a 32% jump in total viewers.

• The Dec. 31, 2015, Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl (Houston vs. Florida State) averaged a 1.6 rating in 18-49s and 5.6 million total viewers, compared with a 1.5 rating and 5 million total viewers for the Dec. 31, 2014 game (TCU vs. Mississippi). That’s up 9% in 18-49s and 12% in total viewers.

• The Jan. 1 Rose Bowl (Stanford vs. Iowa) was the top-rated non-playoff game of bowl season, averaging a 3.6 rating among 18-49s and almost 13.6 million total viewers.

• The “New Year’s Six” nightcap, the Allstate Sugar Bowl (Oklahoma State vs. Mississippi), fared the worst, ratings-wise, with a 2.6 rating and 9 million total viewers on Jan. 1.