Saturday night’s showdown between Texas and Alabama brought major viewership for ESPN — and a ratings victory over Fox.
ESPN announced Tuesday that the Longhorns’ 34-24 upset win over the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa attracted approximately 8.8 million viewers (8.76 million to be more specific) across ESPN and ESPN2. The alternate broadcast on ESPN2 hosted by Pat McAfee contributed 799,000 of those viewers, the network said.
ESPN called the game its “best regular season game since 2015” and its “most-viewed ESPN Saturday game since 2014” with a peak of 10.7 million viewers between 10:15 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. ET as the Longhorns were able to deliver Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide their first non-conference home loss since 2007.
ESPN’s ratings for Texas-Alabama barely edged out Fox’s “Big Noon Saturday” broadcast of Colorado vs. Nebraska, which drew 8.73 million for Deion Sanders’ home debut coaching the Buffaloes. It was the most-watched regular season Pac-12 game ever for Fox and the 10th most-watched regular season college football game ever for the network.
Fox has gone all in on “Coach Prime” and Colorado and it has paid off. In Week 1, Sanders’ debut brought in 7.26 million viewers as Colorado upset TCU in Fort Worth. Fox brought its “Big Noon Kickoff” show to both of Colorado’s games this season and will return to Boulder for Week 3 for the Buffs’ game vs. Colorado State, which will air at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN. ESPN's "College GameDay" will be there, too.
The most-viewed college football game of the season was the Week 1 showdown between Florida State and LSU, which drew 9.17 million viewers for ESPN. That game was played in a standalone Sunday night time slot, giving it an even bigger reach ahead of the NFL season.
A peak into the future of college football?
The massive viewership from these matchups provides a glimpse of where college football is headed following the most recent round of realignment. Texas and Oklahoma will both be members of the SEC next season, making showdowns between UT and Alabama a much more regular occurrence.
Colorado delivered that huge number for the Pac-12 in what is likely the conference’s final year of existence. With the conference unable to reach a media rights deal, Colorado left for the Big 12, seeking the stability of the Big 12’s TV deals with ESPN and Fox. Arizona, Arizona State and Utah soon followed CU to the Big 12 as Oregon and Washington departed for the Big Ten. Cal and Stanford later accepted invitations to the ACC, leaving Oregon State and Washington State as the lone members of the Pac-12.
With more big brands in a consolidated “Power Four” (as of now), the opportunities for attractive television matchups will likely come on a more frequent basis.