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ESPN's College Football Playoff Ratings Plummet On New Year's Eve


The College Football Playoffs were on ESPN last night, and ESPN's parent company, Disney, wasn't about to let anyone forget it. The playoffs were even written into a soap opera. ABC's "General Hospital," also owned by Disney, had characters talking about what they'd be doing for New Year's Eve.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) I was planning on checking out The Floating Rib because they're playing the College Football Playoff.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Hey, Jason, you got anything going on tonight? Dante and I are going to go to The Floating Rib and watch the College Football Playoffs if you want to come along.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) I really enjoy watching football on New Year's.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) OK, well, you're in luck because ESPN's doing it again next year.

CORNISH: Hat tip to Deadspin for that amazing "GH" montage, by the way. So did ESPN get the ratings it hoped for? Well, let's ask John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal. And John Ourand, how is the network spinning these numbers this morning? How did they do?

JOHN OURAND: They're spinning them furiously, but this is about as worst a case scenario as ESPN could have come up with. Overnight, ratings are down about 35 percent from last year when the games were held on New Year's Day, much more than I was expecting.

CORNISH: But what is the reasoning behind all this? Why were these games moved to New Year's Eve?

OURAND: These games were moved to New Year's Eve as part of a plan by college football executives where they want to create a tradition of watching football on New Year's Eve. They take a look at what the NFL has done with Thanksgiving Day, what the NBA has done with Christmas Day and even what Major League Baseball has done with the July 4, and they think that that they can create New Year's Eve as the college football semifinal. It would be a great way to brand it, and they can really identify with New Year's Eve as much as college football's identified with New Year's Day.

CORNISH: Did it work in your house?

OURAND: Yes and no - went over to a friend's house. My wife and I went over to a friend's house, and we had dinner. The kids were watching television. We were getting the score reports, but we - I probably didn't see more than maybe three plays of the night game.

CORNISH: ESPN is spending a reported $7 billion to air College Football Playoffs. Could a bad showing on New Year's Eve force the network to try and move the games back to New Year's Day?

OURAND: New Year's Day probably is not going to work. And one of the main reasons it's not going to work is that the Rose Bowl is on New Year's Day, and it's not moving. So last year, they were able to have it on New Year's Day because the Rose Bowl hosted one of the semifinals. So it was able to do it on New Year's Day. But until that happens again, it's going to have to be on New Year's Eve or maybe the day after New Year's Day.

CORNISH: Were the numbers actually higher last year in part because it was the first time people had this kind of playoff?

OURAND: Yeah, I think that's one of the reasons that I would expect them to hold these games next New Year's Eve. Last year, we had big college football brands in the game. You had Ohio State playing Alabama. You had a couple of first-round draft picks playing in the other game. And there was a lot of excitement that came with it, and it was on New Year's Day when more people are watching television. So it was going to be a tough comparison this year, especially coming on New Year's Eve with brands and with teams that weren't necessarily as popular as they were last year.

CORNISH: John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal, thanks so much for speaking with us.

OURAND: Thank you very much, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.