College Football Playoff Semifinals among Most-Watched Cable Telecasts of 2018

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College Football Playoff Semifinals among Most-Watched Cable Telecasts of 2018

  • Capital One Orange Bowl Earns More than 19 Million Viewers and Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic Nearly 17 Million; Both Games Draw Biggest Audiences in First Half as Alabama and Clemson Start Strong
  • CFP Responsible for Five of the Six Most-Watched Cable Presentations of the Year; All Six Aired on ESPN


  • Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Delivers More than 8.3 Million Viewers; On Track to Be Most-Watched Non-Semifinal Peach Bowl of the CFP Era


The College Football Playoff Semifinals put an exclamation point on ESPN airing cable’s most-watched telecasts in 2018, as the Capital One Orange Bowl — which Alabama never trailed on their way to a 45-34 win over Oklahoma (8 p.m. ET) — earned a Nielsen total live audience of 19,069,000 viewers on ESPN and ESPN2 and the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic – which saw Clemson score 27 unanswered points as they defeated Notre Dame 30-3 (4 p.m.) – delivered a Nielsen total live audience of 16,809,000 viewers on the same two networks.

The more-than-19 million viewers who watched Alabama advance to their fourth consecutive CFP National Championship results in the fourth largest cable presentation of 2018 and solidified the CFP’s sole position atop the year’s most-watched cable telecasts. The significant audience joins last season’s Semifinals (January 1) and National Championship (January 8) as cable’s four biggest of the year.

The nearly 17 million who watched Clemson earn its third CFP Semifinal victory delivered the sixth largest cable telecast of the year, which combined with ESPN’s Monday Night Football presentation on Nov. 19, results in ESPN airing the six most-watched cable telecasts of 2018.

Audiences Peak in First Half as Alabama and Clemson Generate Significant First Half Leads
Both games achieved strong audiences despite fast starts by Alabama and Clemson causing both games to earn their peak audience in the first half. The Orange Bowl peaked at 20,776,000 viewers as the Crimson Tide was up 21-0 and on the cusp of scoring another touchdown which put the Crimson Tide up 28-0 (8:30-9 p.m.). The Cotton Bowl peaked at 18,105,000 viewers as Clemson scored 20 points in the second quarter, including a touchdown in the final seconds to go into the locker room up 23-3 (5:30-6 p.m.).

Orange Bowl Viewership in Line with Top Non-New Year’s Day Semifinals; Both Bowls See Viewership Spike from Their First CFP Semifinals  
The more than 19 million that viewed the Alabama victory is on par with the most-watched non-New Year’s Day CFP Semifinals and could potentially become the most-watched non-New Year’s Day Semifinal when all streaming and ESPNEWS numbers are available in the coming days. With its current viewership, the Orange Bowl already experienced a 2% audience increase from the 2015 CFP Semifinal late game and the Cotton Bowl a 7% viewership jump from the same year’s early game, the only other season the two games were CFP Semifinals.

The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl earned its best non-CFP Semifinal overnight in the CFP era as it was announced this morning and viewership is expected to mirror the superlative once audience is fully reported. With current Nielsen reporting, the game had an Nielsen average audience of 8,366,000 viewers.

Viewership is via Nielsen Fast Nationals and accounts for ESPN and ESPN2. ESPNEWS is not included


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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