This year’s edition of the College Football Playoff was played on New Year’s Eve, last year, the inaugural contest was held on New Year’s Day—next year, the tournament will surely return to the original format. Television ratings for the tournament this go-around fell dramatically—approximately 36 percent as compared to last year.
ESPN announced the overnight ratings on Friday. In television, a decrease of just five percent can often represent millions and millions of dollars in advertising revenue.
The Orange Bowl between Clemson and Oklahoma kicked off at about 4:10 p.m. ET drew a 9.7 rating; the Crimson Tide’s 38-0 blowout of the Michigan State Spartans earned a 9.9 rating. Last year’s first semifinal between Oregon and Florida State at the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day drew a rating of 15.5; and last year’s Sugar Bowl played between Ohio State and Alabama earned a 15.3 rating—both stark in contrast.
Surely, these numbers could have been padded due to the dramatic match-ups in the contests—several anticipated seeing Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston square off against each other. Ohio State and Alabama —two of the most storied programs in all of college football—fought to the death in a game that was decided on the final play. Both contests —Oregon versus Florida State and Ohio State versus Alabama—represented the largest cable TV audiences ever—until Ohio State and Oregon met in the National Championship, a game which was watched by 33 million.
Bill Hancock, the executive director of the College Football Playoff, said he was still waiting to see the numbers for the games to be played on New Year’s Day.
“It’s just not appropriate to talk until all the results are in. I guess it’s like asking a coach to talk about a whole game at halftime,” he said.
The results of this year’s games are simple: New Year’s Eve is a day most people do not spend watching television. Perhaps the reason the decision to play the games on Dec. 31 has been scrutinized for most of the year by many. No matter, as Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated wrote on Wednesday, the playoff committee insists on making football on New Year’s Eve a new tradition:
While hardcore college football fans have long braced for this awkward clash of football and nightlife, casual fans in nontraditional college hotbeds don’t understand why the season’s best games aren’t being played on New Year’s Day. This is especially confusing because last year’s games on Jan. 1—in their made-for-hangovers afternoon and evening time slots—drew the biggest cable audience in television history (28 million). This year’s semis won’t be held on New Year’s Day because those time slots are, until 2026, already allotted to the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. And if there is one thing we’ve learned over the years about the conference commissioners who run college football, it’s that they care little about the greater good of the game if it means losing dollars from their own wallets.
So, that has led Bill Hancock, the College Football Playoff’s executive director, to spearhead a tone-deaf charge to urge Americans to change the tradition of planning New Year’s Eve around champagne toasts. Playoff officials had a chance earlier this year to move the semis to Jan. 2, a Saturday with no competition from NFL games, but they were apparently so eager to begin the “new tradition” of playing games on New Year’s Eve that they decided to inconvenience fans and risk losing millions of viewers. “It just didn’t feel right for us to delay the start of the new tradition by one year,” Hancock recently told CBS.
We’re led to believe the decision to hold the playoff on New Year’s Eve is to protect the interests of four conferences and two bowl games. The Rose Bowl, which features teams from the Pac-12 and the Big Ten, has traditionally been played during the early evening of New Year’s Day; the SEC and the Big 12 made the decision to lock up the following time slot with the Sugar Bowl on the same day. We all know, the SEC gets what the SEC wants.
With the playoff complete, Alabama and Clemson will meet for the first time ever, facing off for the National Championship on Jan. 11 in Arizona.