The first College Football Playoff semifinals held on New Year’s Eve confirmed widespread speculation that ratings would suffer. But even the most pessimistic TV industry observers did not anticipate the magnitude of that suffering.
Viewership on Thursday was down catastrophically from the inaugural semifinals last season, when both games averaged more than 28 million viewers on New Year’s Day.
This season’s semis averaged 15.64 million for the Orange Bowl, in which Clemson defeated Oklahoma, 37-17, and 18.55 million for the Cotton Bowl, in which Alabama defeated Michigan State, 38-0.
There are multiple factors at play in those figures, including the fact that both games were blowouts and the programs involved did not have quite as much drawing power as those in last year’s final four.
But the biggest factor was moving the games to New Year’s Eve, an idea that officials hope over time will turn Dec. 31 into something akin to the NFL on Thanksgiving and the NBA on Christmas — or what New Year’s Day traditionally has been for college football.
Many had warned, though, that New Year’s Eve is by nature a different holiday, one in which people tend to do things outside their homes. It is not a federal holiday at all, meaning many people work that day. (The Orange Bowl started at 1 p.m. Pacific Time.)
ESPN itself tried to convince CFP officials to move the games to Jan. 2 just for this year because it was a free day between the New Year’s Day bowls and the final Sunday of the NFL regular season. But administrators held firm.
Jan. 1 is unavailable for the semifinals two out of three years because the Rose and Sugar Bowls have deals that lock them into that date regardless. Last year it was those bowls’ turn to host the semis; hence their Jan. 1 time slots.
New Year’s Eve will fall on a Saturday next season, at least lessening fans’ potential work conflicts. The Rose and Sugar Bowls will host the semis the season after that, so the games will be played on Jan. 1, 2018.