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BCS’s Big Winner: ESPN

1/17/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

ESPN’s $500 million investment in the Bowl Championship Series paid off during its rookie year.

During the first of its four-year
rights contract for college football’s
BCS, previously held by Fox, ESPN
notched the biggest and fourth-largest
audiences in cable history with
its presentations of the BCS National
Championship Game and the Rose
Bowl, both of which had formerly
aired on broadcast brethren ABC.

Auburn’s 22-19 victory over Oregon in
the national title game on Jan. 10 drew a
fast national rating of 17.8, 17.7 million
homes and a basic cable-record 27.3
million viewers, according to Nielsen.
That shattered the previous mark of 21.8
million watchers, held by ESPN’s Oct.
5, 2009, coverage of the Monday Night
Football
contest between the Minnesota
Vikings and Green Bay Packers in
Brett Favre’s return against the squad that launched his
legendary National Football League career.

Despite the record performance, the Tigers-Ducks contest
trailed the 2010 Alabama-Texas title tilt’s 30.8 million
watchers on ABC by 11%.

The Jan. 10 game also played big on ESPN’s digital platforms.
On broadband service ESPN3.com, the game was
watched by more than 619,000 unique viewers, the most
ever for a college-football game and fourth all-time behind
three 2010 FIFA World Cup contests, according to
Adobe Systems. Oregon-Auburn more than doubled the
previous college football record of 248,000 for the Jan.
4 Sugar Bowl. Usage in visits, page views and total minutes
on the day on ESPN.com and the ESPN Mobile Web
saw increases ranging from 26% to 60% across all categories,
according to offi cials at the sports giant.

TCU’s 21-19 win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl on New
Year’s Day drew some 20.6 million to ESPN, making it the
fourth-most watched program in cable annals behind the
aforementioned games and the 21.4 million for the Nov. 30,
2009, MNF match-up between the New Orleans Saints and
New England Patriots.

The other BCS games didn’t generate nearly that kind
of viewership: the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl, in which Ohio State
topped Arkansas, pulled in 13.6 million watchers; the Jan.
1 Fiesta Bowl, which saw Oklahoma rout Connecticut, garnered
10.8 million viewers; and the Jan. 3 Orange Bowl,
showcasing Stanford’s thrashing of Virginia Tech, netted
10.7 million.

ESPN officials pointed out that the network’s coverage
of the five BCS games averaged 16.7 million viewers, higher
than the season-to-date
primetime average for each
of the four major broadcast
networks. If considered a
series, the five-game pack
would rank No. 6 among
viewers out of the 111
primetime programs on
the four major broadcast
networks during the 2010-
11 TV season (excluding
specials).

With all five BCS games,
ESPN’s audience trailed
the contests that aired on
Fox and ABC during 2010,
supporting those who subscribe
to the belief that it
remains difficult for cable
to overcome the broadcast
universe’s 16 million-home
advantage over ESPN’s 100
million subscribers. Conversely,
ESPN’s initial BCS
lineup didn’t include such
college football bluebloods
as Alabama, Florida, USC
or Texas.

Still, the 2011 game
stands as the fifth-mostviewed
among the 13 BCS
national title contests.

September