ESPN Networks Deliver Multi-Year College Football Viewership Growth in 2021 – and the Most-Streamed CFB Season Ever

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ESPN Networks Deliver Multi-Year College Football Viewership Growth in 2021 – and the Most-Streamed CFB Season Ever

  • ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 combine to finish up over 2020 and 2019
  • ABC’s most-watched season since 2017
  • ESPN2 up significantly from both 2019 and 2020
  • College GameDay Built by The Home Depot averaged 1.9 million viewers, up 39 percent from 2020

ESPN networks delivered substantial viewership growth during the 2021 college football season, spurred by a banner year for ABC and ESPN2, as well as College GameDay Built by The Home Depot, which further solidified its position as the sport’s show of record in its 35th season.

ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 Record Multi-Year Highs
ESPN networks were up from both 2019 and 2020, with ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 averaging 1,976,000 viewers, up 19 percent from 2020 and two percent from 2019. ABC registered its most-watched season since 2017, averaging 4,042,000 viewers this season, up 25 percent from 2020 and two percent from 2019. ABC aired the most-viewed game in more Saturday windows (16 of 42) than any other network. Combined, ESPN and ABC had the top game in nearly half of all Saturday game windows (20 of 42) and ESPN networks were responsible for 53 percent of live game minutes viewed across nationally-rated networks, on par with 2019.

ESPN, ESPN2 Carry Cable Crowns
For the first time since 2015, ESPN networks are the top two most-watched networks for college football on cable. ESPN averaged 1,733,000 viewers in 2021, up 16 percent from 2020 and on par with 2019. ESPN2 experienced its most-watched season since 2018, up 65 percent from 2020 and a 27 percent increase from 2019. On average, games on ESPN2 recorded 643,000 viewers this season.

ESPN Networks Own Primetime
ABC Saturday Night Football Presented by Capital One averaged more than five million viewers in 2021, up 36 percent from 2020 and on par with 2018 and 2019. College football lifted ESPN networks to become the most-viewed network in primetime 11 times this season. ABC and ESPN were the top two networks in primetime on six different Saturdays. During the average regular season Saturday, 7.8 million viewers and 2.5 million P18-49 viewers were watching ABC or ESPN college football in the average minute in primetime.

ABC Afternoon Action Rises
ABC’s late afternoon window averaged 3,554,000 viewers, up seven percent from 2019 to rank as ABC’s most-watched late afternoon window since 2016. The noon window also witnessed multi-year growth, registering 3,109,000 viewers in 2021, up six percent from 2019 and four percent from 2018.

ABC Airs More Most-Watched Games
ABC broadcast six of the top 15 and nine of the top 25 college football games this season, the most of any network. In total, ESPN networks aired half of the top 50 most-watched games this season, the most of any network family.

College GameDay Reigns Supreme
College GameDay Built by The Home Depot averaged 1,880,000 viewers, up 39 percent from 2020. The preeminent pre-game show registered 146,000 more viewers than the average college football game on ESPN. If College GameDay was a game window, it would be the third-most-watched game window on cable.

CGD Superlatives:

  • Rivalry Week from Ann Arbor, Mich. averaged 2.3 million viewers, its most-viewed episode since Rivalry Week 2018 and third best since the show expanded to three hours in 2013. The final hour averaged 3 million viewers, the fifth best 11 a.m. hour since 2013
  • Week 5 from Athens, Ga. averaged 2.2 million viewers, the most-viewed October telecast since the show expanded to three hours in 2013 and best pre-November show since 2015

2021 Becomes ESPN’s Most-Streamed Season on Record
3.9 billion minutes of live college football games were streamed across ESPN networks and select MVPD access points, up 37 percent from 2020 and 8 percent from 2019. This is the most-streamed season ever on ESPN platforms.

Additional Viewership Notables

  • ABC’s four Kickoff Weekend games averaged 6.2 million viewers, up 28 percent from 2019 and the network’s most-viewed Kickoff Weekend since 2017 and 3rd best in the past decade
    • Clemson-Georgia averaged 8.9 million viewers and ranks as the second-most-viewed Kickoff Saturday game in the past 20 years (behind FSU-ALA in 2017)
    • Notre Dame-Florida State game drew 7.8 million viewers and ranks as the second-best Opening Week Sunday game on record
    • ESPN’s Opening Friday night doubleheader (UNC-VT and MSU-NW) averaged 2.3 million viewers and ranks as ESPN’s most-viewed Opening Friday since 2012
  • Week 3’s Auburn-Penn State game (7.6 million viewers, ABC) drew the largest Week 3 audience for a game on ABC since 2011
  • ESPN’s Week 5 SEC tripleheader averaged 3.6 million viewers, the best SEC tripleheader on ESPN since 2016
  • Oklahoma-Texas in Week 6 averaged 5.9 million viewers, the second-most-watched Red River Rivalry in the past 10 years (behind 2019). This game helped ABC to its most-viewed Week 6 tripleheader since 2011
  • LSU-Alabama in Week 10 averaged 5 million viewers and ranked as ESPN’s most-viewed game since October 2019 (Florida-LSU) and the top game on cable this season
  • ABC averaged 4.7 million viewers in Week 11, its most-viewed tripleheader since Week 1 and most-watched November Saturday since Nov. 26, 2016
  • Oregon-Utah in Week 12 averaged 4.8 million viewers, the best Pac-12 conference game (excluding conference championships) since 2014
  • Oklahoma-Oklahoma State on ABC SNF in Week 13 averaged 6.5 million viewers, the third-most-viewed game in the history of Bedlam and best since 2013
  • The Pac-12 Championship averaged 4.2 million viewers, the second-most-viewed Pac-12 Championship in the past five years
  • The American Athletic Conference Championship averaged 3.4 million viewers, the most-viewed AAC Championship ever
  • The CFP Rankings Show on Sunday, Dec. 5 averaged a million viewers, up 10 percent from 2020 and five percent from 2019

ESPN Digital and Social Show Stellar Growth

  • ESPN’s digital and social shows combined for more than 50 million views this season, including Countdown to GameDay, The College Football Show, The Wrap-Up, Rankings Reaction, The Kickoff, and ESPN’s Heisman shows
  • Total engagement for college football posts across ESPN’s social platforms was up 19 percent year-over-year with a similar number of posts. College GameDay on TikTok launched before the 2021 season and is now up to more than 450,000 followers. In addition to College GameDay’s growth on the platform, ESPN has experienced significant success on its main account. ESPN is the most-engaged account in sports and is in the top five most-followed and engaged brands on the entire platform.

Amanda Brooks

Amanda is the Director of Communications for ESPN College Football and SEC Network, and oversees publicity for college gymnastics and track & field across all ESPN networks. Amanda is a proud alum of Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., and earned her master's in ethics from Vanderbilt University. A native of Kent, Ohio, she is a die-hard Cleveland sports fan.
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