College Football: ABC’s Saturday Night Football Most-Watched College Football Franchise across Any Time Slot, Any Network, for Second Consecutive Year; Fans Watched 85 Billion Minutes on ESPN’s Networks, 60% More than the Competition Combined

College FootballFootball

College Football: ABC’s Saturday Night Football Most-Watched College Football Franchise across Any Time Slot, Any Network, for Second Consecutive Year; Fans Watched 85 Billion Minutes on ESPN’s Networks, 60% More than the Competition Combined

  • Saturday Night Football: Most-Viewed Franchise Among All Key Demos, including Millennials 
  • ESPN College Football Primetime: Cable’s Most-Viewed Series, up 19% Year-Over-Year 
  • ESPN Nets Rule Cable: 22 Most-Watched Games, 47 of Top 50; ESPN’s Average Viewership 163% Higher than FS1 
  • ESPN’s Networks: More than 171 Million Fans Watched This Season, Larger than CBS, Fox, FS1, and NBC All Grouped Together
  • ESPN’s Digital Content: Fans Spent 4.3 Billion Minutes Consuming Non-Game, College Football Content on ESPN App and, up 16% from Last Season 
  • Birmingham No. 1 Local Market for 16th Consecutive Year

ESPN’s networks were the definitive home for college football fans during the 2017 regular season as evidenced by their momentous success over the competition, both in broadcast and cable. ABC’s Saturday Night Football was the most-watched college football franchise among all networks in any time slot for the second consecutive year, including airing the most-watched opening weekend game in at least 27 years across all networks.  On cable, ESPN was in a class of its own, as its Saturday prime-time series was up 19% year over year and, as a whole, the network televised the 22 most-watched games. Combined with ESPN2, the two networks 47 of the top 50 games on cable.

The individual franchise and network success propelled ESPN’s networks to reach more than 171 million fans who collectively watched in excess of 85 billion minutes of college football games. The number of minutes watched on ESPN surpasses that of CBS, NBC, Fox and FS1… COMBINED by 60%. The more than 171 million fans that watched dwarf Fox and FS1, combined, by a massive 38%**.  If you group CBS and NBC with Fox and FS1, ESPN networks’ reach is still 8% larger**.

ABC’s Saturday Night Football: Nearly 6 Million Fans Each Week; Most-Watched Franchise Among Millennials and All Key Demos
ABC’s Saturday Night Football averaged 5,834,000 fans per game (total live audience), through its 14-game prime-time weekly package. In addition to garnering the largest overall audience of any franchise, the franchise was the most-watched among all key demos: males 18-34, 18-49, and 25-54 and persons 18-34, 18-49, and 25-54.

ESPN College Football Primetime Grows Audience by Nearly 19%; By Far Most-Watched Series on Cable
ESPN’s college football prime time series* averaged 3,103,000 viewers, up 19% year-over-year, easily becoming the most-watched cable series this season.

On Cable: ESPN in a Class of Its Own
On cable, ESPN aired the 22 most-watched games, led by Alabama at Mississippi State.  Combined with ESPN2, the networks aired 47 of the top 50 most-watched games and then, adding ESPNU, its 87 of the top 100 most-watched games. Overall, ESPN’s average viewership was 163% higher than FS1s.

ESPN/ABC: Consistently Air Most-Watched Games More than Any Other Networks
ESPN’s industry-leading portfolio of college football rights includes all 10 FBS conferences. This  vast portfolio of rights resulted in:

  • Most-Watched Games: ESPN/ABC aired the most-watched game of the week more than any other network
  • Leaders in Prime-Time: On a weekly basis, ESPN and ABC combined to air the most-watched prime-time game in all but two weeks of the regular season

ESPN Airs Nearly All Most-Watched Big Ten Primetime Games; Majority of the Conference’s Most-Watched Games Overall
Looking at the conferences which ESPN’s shares its rights, it still stood out amongst its competitors, particularly in the Big Ten. In the first year under a new rights deal, ESPN/ABC aired five of the six most-watched Big Ten conference-controlled prime-time games and, overall, it aired six of the 10 most-watched Big Ten controlled games.

ESPN’s networks also aired the most-viewed Pac-12 conference controlled game and six of the eight most-viewed overall. In the Big 12, it aired two of the three most-viewed games and three of the top five. In the SEC, ESPN’s nets aired three of the six most watched games in which an SEC team was designated as the home team.
4.3 Billion Minutes Spent With College Football Content on ESPN’s Digital Platforms; Up 16% Year-Over-Year
Fans also sought out and the ESPN app for college football content this season, spending 4.3 billion minutes on the platforms during the regular season. This year’s total minute’s usage is up 16% from the same time period last year and doesn’t include time spent streaming any of ESPN’s more than 800 regular season games.

Record-Setting Opening Game Sets Pace for Season; Third Consecutive Year ESPN’s Networks Set a New Record
ABC began the 2017 college football regular season with the sport’s most-anticipated opening weekend matchup in history and fans tuned-in in record numbers. ABC’s Saturday Night Football telecast of Florida State vs. Alabama delivered a total live audience of 12,604,000 viewers, the most-watched kickoff weekend game on record across all networks — ESPN and competitors — surpassing last season’s Notre Dame at Texas game which also aired on ABC.  Most impressively, it was the third consecutive year that ESPN set a new kickoff weekend record.

Additional Season Highlights:

  • Ohio State at Indiana: ESPN’s most-watched opening weekend Thursday game on record
  • Oklahoma at Ohio State: ABC’s most-viewed non-opening week September game since 2011
  • Alabama at Mississippi State: Cable’s most-watched Saturday game in over two seasons and an ESPN Saturday top 10 most-viewed game in last 20 seasons.
  • South Florida at UCF: Most-watched game between two American Athletic Conference teams ever
  • Memphis at UCF: Most-watched American Athletic Conference Championship Game ever


Birmingham is No.1, Again
For the 16th consecutive year, Birmingham was the No. 1 local market for games that aired on ESPN. Combining the rating for games on ESPN and ABC, Birmingham remains the No. 1 local market with Columbus No. 2. The complete Top 10 markets:

Rank Local Rating Market
1 6.8 Birmingham
2 5.0 Columbus
3 4.5 Greenville
4 3.9 Oklahoma City
3.9 Knoxville
6 3.5 Tulsa
3.5 Nashville
3.5 Atlanta
9 3.4 Jacksonville
10 3.1 Dayton
3.1 New Orleans


College GameDay Built by The Home Depot Remains Viewer Destination
College GameDay Built by The Home Depot was once again the destination for college football fans on Saturday morning, as the show averaged 1,841,000 viewers. The most-viewed show this year was on November 25, as it averaged 2,311,000 viewers for the show live from Auburn.

*Notes Saturday games that kicked off between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.
**Data through Nov. 25; Updated data not available at press time


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.
Back to top button