Bowl Coverage Delivers Early

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ESPN received some solid early returns with the college football bowl season.

Going into the Dec. 23 Holiday Bowl between No. 11 TCU and No. 9 Boise State, ESPN and ESPN2 had aired five of their combined 23 games this bowl season.

The total sports network kicked off its coverage of the inaugural EagleBank Bowl -- in which Wake Forest avenged a regular-season loss to Navy, 29-19 at 11 a.m. on Saturday Dec. 20 -- and averaged a 2.2 household rating, 2.19 million households and 2.88 million viewers, according to Nielsen data.

That was followed at 2:30 p.m. by the New Mexico Bowl, where Colorado State beat Fresno State, 40-35. The contest improved on a 2.0 rating last year, earning a 2.6 mark, 2.55 million households and 3.43 million watchers on average.

In the late afternoon window, ESPN2 televised the first St. Petersburg Bowl, a 41-14 rout of Memphis by South Florida: the game delivered a 1.3 rating, 1.27 million households and nearly 1.7 million viewers.

Matched head-to-head with NFL Network’s top game of 2008, the Texas Stadium finale between the Dallas Cowboys and Baltimore Ravens, ESPN’s presentation of the Las Vegas Bowl performed quite well. Arizona’s 31-21 triumph over BYU scored a 2.5 household rating, matching last year’s bowl equivalent, and translating into 2.48 million homes and 3.39 million viewers on average. The NFL game -- Baltimore won 33-24 -- tackled 5.8 million viewers.

On Sunday night, the New Orleans Bowl went helmet to helmet with NBC’s Sunday Night Football battle for NFC supremacy between the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers and got clawed. The game, which saw Southern Mississippi edge Troy in overtime, garnered just a 0.8 rating, 775,000 households and 1.15 million viewers.

Last year, ESPN averaged a 3.0 household rating and 2.87 million households over 17 games, while ESPN2 notched a 1.6 mark for a quartet of contests, said ESPN officials.

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