Last night’s College Football Playoff semifinal games went up against traditional New Year’s Eve programming such as “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” and what is traditionally known as a festive night out (or night in) for most. With that established, the College Football Playoff games on ESPN averaged a 9.8 household rating — a 36% decline from a 15.5 average last year when the games were played on New Year’s Day.
Thursday’s games were not competitive in the second half. The Clemson Tigers blew away the Oklahoma Sooners 37-17 at the Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Florida. In the second semifinal, the Alabama Crimson Tide defeated the Michigan State Spartans 38-0. at the Cotton Bowl Classic in Arlington, Texas.
When the playoff committee decided it was a great idea to change tradition and put two of the biggest games on the college football calendar on New Year’s Eve, it was met with consternation and criticism. Last summer, 4pm and 8pm eastern were announced as the start times for the CFP semifinal games. “We really do think we’re going to change the paradigm of New Year’s Eve,” said Bill Hancock, the executive director of the College Football Playoff.
“We approached the CFP with a one-year change—and really a one-year-only opportunity—because of a complete quirk in the calendar,” said Ilan Ben-Hanan, ESPN’s vice president of programming and acquisitions. “With Saturday being a traditional college football day, we thought it could be a great one-time opportunity to have the semifinals fall on Jan. 2. You would have the Rose and Sugar and Fiesta [bowls] on Jan. 1 as it already is scheduled and then you would move what is the current New Year’s Eve schedule to Jan. 2. We approached the CFP with [the idea], the CFP vetted it and they decided to stick with the regularly scheduled calendar, which is fine, and we move forward.”
This is the second of a 12-year, $5.6-billion deal for the College Football Playoff on ESPN, which will see the semifinal games played on New Year’s Eve seven more times. The contracts were negotiated to keep the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl in their traditional Jan. 1 timeslots. The Rose and Sugar Bowls will serve as semifinal games every three years. According to reports, ESPN fought against airing the semifinals on New Year’s Eve, however College Football Playoff execs believed the games would fare well.