The early returns are in for the first games of the college football playoff and the biggest winner is the one with the most invested, ESPN.
The two semifinal games played on New Year’s Day had an average TV rating of 15.0 and an average audience of 28.2 million viewers according to ESPN.
Both of those games were the highest-rated shows in cable television history, with the Ohio State-Alabama matchup in the Sugar Bowl drawing a slightly larger audience (28.3 million) than Oregon and Florida State in the Rose Bowl (28.2 million).
More importantly for ESPN, both games drew larger audiences than each of the last four BCS championships games and were just slightly behind the 2010 championship game which had an audience of 30.8 million on ABC according to Sports Media Watch.
And there is still one game to go.
ESPN did luck out a little bit in the first year of its 12-year, $US7.3 billion deal to air the playoff games. This year’s final four was filled with big name teams, marquee players, and compelling storylines.
But part of that was driven by the drama of teams competing for spots in the inaugural tournament and there is little reason to think it will change in the future.
Of course, with any successful project, these ratings almost certainly mean that the playoff will expand at some point in the future, whether that is six teams (with the top two teams earning a bye) or eight teams.
If three games is worth $US7.3 billion to ESPN and the schools, just think how much seven games would be worth.
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