Michigan-Ohio State Draws Huge Ratings for ABC

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The Ohio State-Michigan game scored 16.8 million viewers.
The Ohio State-Michigan game scored 16.8 million viewers. Credit: Big Ten Network

If your stadium seats more than 100,000 people, you've earned the right to indulge in a little hyperbole every now and again, so Ohio State and Michigan boosters can be forgiven for their profligate use of capital letters when referring to their schools' annual grudge match. As it happens, The Game lived up to all the advance hype -- fans are unlikely to see a more exciting college football game this year -- and the TV ratings were suitably impressive.

According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, ABC's coverage of the Michigan-Ohio State showdown on Saturday averaged 16.8 million viewers and a 9.4 household rating, making it the fifth most-watched regular-season college football game in the last 25 years.

The Buckeyes' 30-27 double-overtime victory now stands as the most-viewed in-season game since CBS's broadcast of the Nov. 5, 2011 defensive standoff between No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama. The Tigers' 9-6 overtime win averaged 20 million viewers in primetime. (In accordance with classical precedent, the Wolverines and Buckeyes kicked off at noon EST. Don't look for The Game to migrate to primetime any time soon; Michigan only hosted its first night game five years ago.)

ABC's 9.4 household rating was the highest for a college football game since Dec. 1, 2012, when CBS drew a 9.8 rating with its coverage of the SEC Championship game. No. 2 Alabama edged No. 3 Georgia by a score of 32-28.

To put Saturday's ratings in further context, the Michigan-Ohio State thriller out-delivered 25 of this season's primetime NFL contests, including two "Sunday Night Football" broadcasts, 10 of 11 "Thursday Night Football" games and all 13 "Monday Night Football" telecasts on ABC sibling ESPN. The Game also torched each and every episode of this season's most-watched broadcast drama ("NCIS") and comedy ("The Big Bang Theory").

In terms of the rivalry, Saturday's clash was the most-watched and highest-rated meeting between the Big Ten antagonists since the so-called "Game of the Century" on Nov. 18, 2006. That year, the No. 2 Wolverines paid a visit to the top-ranked Buckeyes, only to come up short in the closing seconds. Ohio State's 42-39 win was watched by 21 million viewers, and ABC drew a 13.0 household rating.

As is generally the case with top-tier college football games, ABC's coverage of Michigan-Ohio State was a showcase for automotive brands. Among the car manufacturers that advertised in The Game were Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Chevrolet, Ram Trucks, Buick and GMC. Other notable in-game advertisers were official College Football Playoff sponsors Allstate, Dr. Pepper, AT&T, Chick-fil-A, Northwestern Mutual, Goodyear, Taco Bell and PlayStation. (Buick and Nissan are also CFP sponsors.)

Among the film studios that ponied up for time in the ABC broadcast were Columbia Pictures ("Passengers"), LucasFilm ("Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"), Twentieth Century Fox ("Assassin's Creed") and Paramount Pictures ("Office Christmas Party"). ESPN brokers all ad sales for ABC's sports properties.

Season-to-date, ABC can lay claim to four of the season's top five most-watched college football broadcasts, a slate that includes the Notre Dame-Texas opener on Sunday, Sept. 4 (10.9 million viewers), the Oct. 1 Louisville-Clemson shootout (9.29 million) and the Oct. 15 Ohio State-Wisconsin Big Ten battle (8.96 million). CBS has bragging rights over the season's third biggest game, as Alabama's 10-0 blanking of LSU on Nov. 5 averaged 10.4 million viewers.

This weekend, the College Football Playoff selection committee will convene to decide which four teams will have a shot at playing in the semifinals (Peach Bowl, Fiesta Bowl) on New Year's Eve. Currently, the top teams in contention are the undefeated Alabama Crimson Tide, Ohio State, Clemson and Washington. The latter three squads are 11-1.

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