When Notre Dame wrapped up an undefeated regular season and Alabama edged Georgia for the SEC title, assuring the two teams of a meeting at Sun Life Stadium for the national championship, more than a few ESPN bigwigs were undoubtedly ecstatic. Why? Because a storied program with a huge national following like Notre Dame + a storied with the rabid regional appeal of Alabama = lots of eyeballs tuned into ESPN for the game, in theory. Is that how it worked in practice?
Well… yeah, pretty much. The game garnered a 15.7 overnight rating, which represented a 14 percent increase over last year’s Alabama-LSU title game, and a press release from ESPN boasts that last night’s was the second-highest-reated telecast in the history of both ESPN and cable television as a whole, though they used slightly different viewership metrics:
No. 2 Alabama’s 42-14 victory over No. 1 and previously unbeaten Notre Dame – attracted the second largest audience of any program in cable television history, an average of 17,216,000 households (17.5 Fast National household coverage rating), according to Nielsen. The average of 26,380,000 viewers (P2+) and the US household rating (15.1) were also second best in cable history and the 17.5 coverage rating is ESPN’s second-highest of all time.
And the game was the highest-rated program on cable since Auburn and Oregon squared off for the national championship two years ago. (While it was overall the third-lowest-rated title game in the last eight years, this is mostly because up until two years ago, the title games were broadcast on major non-cable networks.) Still, though… Auburn-Oregon? Higher ratings than Alabama-Notre Dame? Why? Well, because the game last night, you’ll remember, sucked. It was clear from early on that Alabama was not only going to win, but win by a lot – like when they were up 28-0 at halftime. This drove viewers away. Here’s proof:
Indeed, if the telecast had come close to maintaining that 20.4 household coverage rating it held from 9-9:30 p.m., then today we probably would be talking about it as the most-watched ESPN/cable program ever. And if the game had been close (like, say, Auburn-Oregon was), it stands to reason that way more people would have kept watching. But while big names still clearly carry plenty of weight as far as TV ratings are concerned, they’re apparently not enough to overcome boring football.
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