More Than 81 Million Viewers Reached Throughout ESPN/ABC’s Best College Football Kickoff Weekend

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More Than 81 Million Viewers Reached Throughout ESPN/ABC’s Best College Football Kickoff Weekend

  • ESPN/ABC Wins The Night for Three Consecutive Nights; Televises Seven Most-Watched Games Across All Networks
  • ESPN Streaming Sets Multiple Records; Receives Unprecedented Usage

College football’s best kickoff weekend ever reached 81,200,000 viewers (TV + streaming) on ESPN’s networks from Thursday, Sept.1, to Monday, Sept. 5, with Saturday’s noon, afternoon, and early prime time windows, along with Sunday and Monday’s prime time windows, each surpassing a total live audience of 8,200,000 average viewers per minute, cumulatively across television and streaming, for college football games. ESPN networks’ viewers on Saturday afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET) surpassed a total live audience (TV + Streaming) of 12,000,000 average viewers per minute for its college football games.

In primetime, ESPN/ABC’s three-day massive audience led to ABC (Saturday and Sunday) and ESPN (Monday) winning the night across all broadcast and cable networks in all key demographics: households, persons 2+, men 18-34, men 18-49, men 25-54, persons 18-34, persons 18-49, and persons 25-54.

“ESPN’s success during college football’s best kickoff weekend ever is testament to the great matchups on the field,” said ESPN Executive Vice President of Programming and Acquisitions Burke Magnus. “Many thanks to the College Football Playoff Committee for its emphasis on strength-of-schedule and to the coaches and teams who embraced that challenge and worked with us to make college football’s kickoff week a pinnacle week in the entire sports calendar.”

Record-Setting Kickoff Weekend for ESPN/ABC and ESPN Streaming
In addition to sustaining an immense cumulative audience throughout college football’s first weekend, ESPN/ABC set numerous individual game viewership records in total live audience, TV viewership and multiple ESPN streaming categories.

“It’s a time of great change in our industry but one thing remains constant: the power of live sports,” ESPN President of Global Sales and Marketing Ed Erhardt. “Offering advertisers this kind of reach across all screens is unmatched and we look forward to this momentum building through the College Football Playoff National Championship.”

Sunday night’s Notre Dame at Texas matchup (7:30 p.m. on ABC) delivered a total live audience of 11,139,000 average viewers, the most-watched college football kickoff weekend game on record across all networks**, in both total live audience and TV audience (10,945,000 viewers on ABC*). At the time, the two-overtime classic was the most-streamed ESPN regular season college football game with an average minute audience of 194,000 viewers, 786,000 unique viewers watching 49,900,000 minutes.

Monday night’s Ole Miss vs. Florida State game (8 p.m. on ESPN) audience was substantial with a total live audience of 8,585,000 average viewers. ESPN’s television audience of 8,354,000 average viewers was the second most-watched game of the weekend across all networks, the seventh-best Labor Day night game on ESPN/ABC, and the ninth-best kickoff week game on ESPN/ABC on record.  Also, ESPN’s stream of the final game of the weekend surpassed Sunday’s Fighting Irish-Longhorns’ thriller with an average minute audience of 231,000 viewers and a total of 854,000 unique viewers viewing 59,700,000 minutes overall, setting new ESPN regular season college football streaming for the second time in consecutive nights.

*Please note: Notre Dame at Texas’ final TV Viewership is larger than what was reported via Fast Nationals on Sept. 5

Please note: Total Live Audience = Television average minute audience + streaming average minute audience


ESPN/ABC: TV’s Top 10 Most-Watched Kickoff Weekend Games

Rank Viewership Game Time (ET) Game Date Network
1 10,945,000 7:30 p.m. Notre Dame at Texas Sunday, Sept. 4 2016 ABC
2 10,585,000 8 p.m. Ohio State at Virginia Tech Monday, Sept. 7, 2015 ESPN
3 9,888,000 8 p.m. Boise State vs. Virginia Tech Monday, Sept. 6, 2010 ESPN
4 9,648,000 8 p.m. Miami at Florida State Monday, Sept. 5, 2005 ABC
5 9,142,000 8 p.m. Texas A&M vs Florida State Monday, Aug. 31, 1998 ABC
6 9,120,000 8 p.m. Florida State at Miami Monday, Sept. 4, 2006 ESPN
7 8,611,000 8 p.m. Notre Dame at Georgia Tech Saturday, Sept. 2, 2006 ABC
8 8,406,000 8 p.m. Miami at Florida State Monday, Sept 7, 2009 ESPN
9 8,354,000 8 p.m. Ole Miss vs. Florida State Monday, Sept. 5, 2016 ESPN
10 8,050,000 8 p.m. Georgia at Clemson August 31, 2013 ABC

ESPN Streaming: College Football Regular Season Game Records

Game Date Average Minute
Audience (Rank)
Viewers (Rank)
Total Minutes Viewed (Rank)
Ole Miss vs. Florida State Sept. 5, 2016 231,000 viewers (1st) 854,000 (1st) 59,700,000 (1st)
Notre Dame at Texas Sept. 4, 2016 194,000 viewers  (2nd) 786,000 (2nd) 49,900,000 (2nd)
LSU vs. Wisconsin Sept. 3, 2016 151,000 viewers (5th)

Denotes Top 5 Records Set this weekend

ESPN/ABC Airs Seven Most-Watched Games in Week 1 Across All Networks
Overall, ESPN/ABC aired the seven most-watched games of kickoff weekend across all networks, led by the before mentioned record-breaking total live audience for Notre Dame at Texas and Monday’s Ole Miss-Florida State game. On Saturday, the sport’s first full day of the season, ESPN/ABC aired the five most-watched games across all networks. Highlights:

  • ABC’s Saturday Night Football USC vs. Alabama (Sept. 3, 8 p.m. ET): A total live audience of 8,066,000 average viewers, the most-watched game on Saturday across all networks and an increase in total live audience from last season’s first Saturday Night Football game featuring Wisconsin vs. Alabama (8,031,000 viewers). Also, ABC’s TV audience (7,944,000 viewers) is the fourth-most-watched Saturday kickoff weekend game ever on ESPN/ABC. The digital stream had an average minute audience of 101,000 viewers and 545,000 unique viewers, up 59% and 73%, respectively, over last season’s kickoff week ABC Saturday Night Football
  • LSU vs. Wisconsin (Sept. 3, 3:30 p.m. on ABC): A total live audience of 7,983,000 average viewers, including a TV audience of 7,832,000 viewers, up 152% and 150%, respectively, from last season’s week 1 comparable window featuring BYU at Nebraska (TLA: 3,168,000 viewers and TV: 3,134,000). The Badgers’ victory was Saturday’s second-most watched game across all networks and was ESPN’s most-streamed game of Saturday with an average minute audience of 151,000 viewers and nearly 600,000 unique viewers, an increase of 347% and 263%, respectively from last season’s Cougars-Corn Huskers matchup.
  • Oklahoma vs. Houston (Sept. 3, noon on ABC): A total live audience of 5,844,000 average viewers, including a TV audience of 5,713,000 average viewers, Saturday’s third most-watched game of the day across all networks in both metrics.  The digital stream was also substantial, with an average minute audience of 131,000 viewers and 547,000 unique users.
  • Clemson at Auburn (Sept. 3, 9 p.m. on ESPN): A total live audience of 4,881,000 average viewers, including a TV audience of 4,742,000 viewers, ESPN’s most-watched Saturday kickoff game since 2013 and the network’s second-most watched Saturday kickoff game on record in both metrics. Additionally, the total live audience and TV audience is up 93% and 92%, respectively, from last season’s comparable window featuring Arizona State at Texas A&M (7 p.m. on ESPN). ESPN’s streaming average minute audience of 139,000 average viewers, including 556,000 unique viewers, up 163% and 85%, respectively, over the Sun Devils-Aggies game.
  • North Carolina vs. Georgia (Sept. 3, 5:30 p.m. on ESPN): A total live audience of 3,631,000 average viewers, including a TV audience of 3,529,000 average viewers, an increase of 86% and 85% over last year’s comparable week 1 game with Penn State vs. Temple (3:30 p.m. on ESPN). ESPN’s streaming had an average minute audience of 102,000 viewers, including 529,000 unique viewers, up 175% and 174%, respectively, over the Nittany Lions-Owls game.

ESPN’s Streaming with Unprecedented Usage
ESPN’s streaming numbers saw unprecedented usage in week 1 of the college football season. Collectively, college football games were streamed by 3,900,000 unique viewers for a total of 391,100,000 live minutes viewed in kickoff weekend, up 57% and 86%, respectively, from last season’s kickoff weekend.  From an individual game usage standpoint, average minute audience and unique viewers were particularly strong, highlighted by the following:

  • The seven most-watched television games across all networks (noted above), each also had a streaming average minute audience of more than 100,000 viewers. Comparatively, in the entire 2015 regular season, only eight regular season college football games garnered an average minute audience north of 100,000 viewers.
  • Those same seven games from this weekend also had a streaming audience of more than 500,000 unique viewers, nearly doubling the number of games with more than 500,000 unique viewers during last season’s entire college football regular season, which was four games.

Saturday, college football combined with US Open coverage, resulted in one of the largest days ever for ESPN streaming with 249,100,000 minutes viewed and 2,700,000 unique viewers, good for third and fifth, respectively, for any single day.

Total reach is based on an ESPN Research & Analytics estimate of Nielsen TV and Adobe streaming data informed by audience duplications factors provided by comScore’s Project Blueprint

**Records date back to 1990 for ESPN and 1996 for ABC. Competitive networks include CBS, Fox, FS1, FX, NBCSN and TBS. Data goes back as far to 1996 with CBS. 


Media contact: Derek Volner at 860-384-9986; [email protected] and @DerekVolner

Derek Volner

I currently lead ESPN’s NFL Communications, including Monday Night Football, NFL Draft and studio programming. Previously, I did the same for ESPN’s vast college football portfolio. I have been with ESPN since 2013.
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