A defensive struggle between two of college football’s most storied programs scared up the largest opening-night TV audience in five years, as ABC’s coverage of Saturday night’s Notre Dame-Ohio State game averaged 10.5 million viewers.
The last time ABC delivered bigger numbers for an official college football launch was in 2017, when Alabama’s D smothered Florida State by a 24-7 margin in front of 12.3 million viewers. Saturday’s broadcast also stands as Notre Dame’s strongest debut since 2016, when 10.9 million fans watched as Texas edged the Fighting Irish in overtime, 50-47.
In a weekend marked by a succession of suspense-free blowouts, the Buckeyes’ 21-10 win over the Irish delivered an audience that was 19% larger than the crowd which turned out for the year-ago heavyweight brawl between Georgia and Clemson. ABC’s 2021 college football opener averaged 8.86 million viewers.
ABC’s primetime kickoff outing also improved 36% versus the frankly bonkers Notre-Dame-Florida State showdown on Sept. 5, 2021, a Sunday night air war that averaged 7.75 million viewers. Despite rallying to close an 18-point deficit, the Seminoles fell to the Irish 41-38 as Jonathan Doerer nailed a 41-yard field goal in overtime.
The Saturday Night Football premier now ranks as the most-watched U.S. TV broadcast since 14 million viewers tuned in to see the Warriors close out the Celtics in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on June 16. Moreover, with an average draw of 3.36 million adults 18-49, the ABC game more than tripled this summer’s highest entertainment delivery, a July 26 installment of NBC’s America’s Got Talent that attracted just over 1 million members of the dollar demo.
All told, the ESPN family of networks posted its most-watched weekend opening weekend in six years.
The Week 1 deliveries were strong across the board, as ABC’s presentation of Sunday night’s Florida State-LSU squeaker averaged 7.55 million viewers, while Georgia’s 49-3 dismantling of Oregon served up 6.2 million on Saturday afternoon. Powered by a stifling defensive effort and a star turn at the quarterback position that left many observers deploying the terms “Stetson Bennett IV” and “Heisman Trophy” in the same breath, the ‘Dogs-Ducks laugher was up 9% versus the comparable Chick-fil-A Kickoff (Alabama-Miami) in 2021.
Elsewhere on the dial, Fox’s primetime Big Ten opener, a wild and wooly Thursday night shootout between Penn State and Purdue, averaged 3.51 million viewers, down 44% from the year-ago Ohio State-Minnesota clash (6.3 million). Fox looks to rebound this weekend when it hosts its first Big Noon Saturday outing with an Alabama-Texas pairing. The top-ranked Crimson Tide are currently listed as 20.5-point favorites.
Fox got a little more competition than it’s used to, as ESPN countered with a revival of the Backyard Brawl. The first meeting between Pitt and West Virginia since 2011 averaged 3.15 million viewers in Thursday prime, nearly quadrupling the reach of last year’s late Boise State-Central Florida telecast.