It was one of the all-time most riveting college football title games, a whipsawing, scoreboard-melting showcase of the nation's greatest young gridiron talent, and yet for reasons that aren't readily apparent, ratings for Monday night's Alabama-Clemson showcase were down versus last year's telecast.
According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the Crimson Tide's 45-40 victory over the Tigers in the second College Football Playoff National Championship averaged 25.7 million viewers and a 14.7 household rating, and while nothing to sneeze at, those numbers came up well short of last year's less competitive Ohio State-Oregon shootout.
'Bama's fourth national title in seven seasons was down 23% versus OSU's year-ago 42-20 win over Oregon, and ESPN's household rating was off 19% from the inaugural title tilt's 18.2 rating. Perhaps fans were leery of getting bogged down in what may have been yet another bowl-game blowout, or maybe the ratings declines could be chalked up to simple Nick Saban fatigue, but either way, an awful lot of people missed out on some wildly entertaining football.
In fact, it wouldn't be a stretch to suggest that 'Bama-Clemson was up there with the greatest title tilt of all, the 2006 Rose Bowl slugfest pitting Vince Young and Texas against Matt Leinart and USC. An instant classic, the Longhorns' 41-38 victory delivered a staggering 35.6 million viewers and a 21.7 household rating on ABC. The final game called by legendary broadcaster Keith Jackson, the 2006 Rose Bowl was also the last national championship game of the pre-BCS era.
Getting back to the here and now, if Monday night's ratings slide was hard to fathom, the final results were nowhere near as disastrous as was the turnout for the Dec. 31 Orange and Cotton Bowls. That said, for even the casual viewer it was readily apparent that ESPN was taking care of a lot of make-goods over the course of the evening. ESPN aired a minimal number of in-house promos (one for the NBA on ABC, a 15-second spot for the 2016 Masters and one for its broadcast sibling's "American Crime"), ceding that inventory to advertisers who had bought time in the underperforming playoff games.
Predictably, the 14 active official College Football Playoff sponsors were the most visible throughout the Championship, as AT&T, Northwestern Mutual, Allstate and Ford combined for no fewer than 24 spots. Capital One was in for five ads, while Taco Bell and Chick-fil-A messaging aired four times a piece. Buick, Dr. Pepper,
Auto, insurance, QSR, financial services, telco and movies were the most active categories, with cars leading the pack with some $18.6 million in ad value. Studios featured in the game included DC Entertainment ("Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice"), Lionsgate ("Dirty Grandpa"), Paramount Pictures ("13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi") and Walt Disney Pictures ("The Finest Hour").
DraftKings and FanDuel were nowhere to be found, but then again, fantasy football season is over and done. Whether the category returns as strong next season is the $30 million question, although signs point to "nope."
Meanwhile, when newcomer Dos Equis steps in next season as the CFP's first official beer sponsor, it will find itself in relatively uncharted waters. The 'Bama-Clemon game featured just two beer ads, as Coors ran a pair of 30-second spots.
When deliveries culled from ESPN's alternate-feed "Megacast" were factored in, the second annual CFP Championship delivered some 26.2 million viewers. That too marked a 23% drop compared to last year's Megacast total (34.1 million).
By way of comparison to other high-profile sporting events, the 'Bama-Clemson game was down 8% versus the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball National Championship Game (16.0 household rating), tied the ESPN/ABC simulcast of Saturday's Kansas City-Houston AFC Wild Card Game (14.7), topped Game 6 of the 2015 NBA Finals (13.4) and out-matched last summer's Women's World Cup Final (11.4).