Considering both games were blowouts it’s hard to know where this particular chicken-egg debate begins and ends, but it’s clear by now that viewers have strongly rejected the concept of College Football Playoff semifinals on New Year’s Eve.
ESPN released viewership data for Saturday’s semifinals on Sunday, announcing that viewership was up 11 percent from last year but not close to making up the 35 percent drop from 2014 to ’15. Birmingham scored a 42.1 rating for Alabama’s 24-7 triumph over Washington in the Peach Bowl, while Columbus led all markets with a 35.1 rating for Clemson’s 31-0 blanking of Ohio State. Columbus and Knoxville out-rated Seattle for the Peach Bowl, while more people watched the Fiesta Bowl in Birmingham (31.3) than Greenville, S.C. (27.9).
Across the nation, the Peach Bowl scored a 10.9 rating, up from last year’s 9.7 in the early time slot but well down from the 15.3 rating of the 2015 Rose Bowl. The Fiesta Bowl scored an even 10.0, up slightly from a 9.9 in the same slot a year ago but still not close to the 15.5 registered by the 2015 Sugar Bowl.
Two consecutive years of blowouts certainly didn’t help matters — margins of victory for the last two years of semifinals: 20, 38, 17 and 31 — but it’s clear now that Bill Hancock‘s grand “paradigm shift” pronouncement of New Year’s Eve semifinals was a gigantic flop.
The semifinal rotation moves back to the Rose and Sugar next year, pushing the games back to their viewer-friendly date of New Year’s Day. After that, the semifinals will move off New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day for the first time, to Dec. 29 in 2018 (Cotton and Orange) and Dec. 28 in 2019 (Peach and Fiesta). The semifinals will not move back to New Year’s Eve until 2021 and ’22.