Generally speaking, the 2020 season is regarded as a wash within the sports television industry. It basically didn't happen. The diehards watched, sure, but to the casual audience, it was as if The Office moved from Scranton to the moon. And you need the casual fan to watch your games if you want the TV networks to pay you obscene amounts of money.
But I'll use it here just to make a simple point.
The entire 2020 college football regular season, not counting conference championship games or bowls, had 10 games top 5 million viewers, and none until Oct. 10.
We've had five already in a 2021 season that is but one week old.
The weekend started strong with 6.295 million people tuning into Fox's Thursday night game of Ohio State at Minnesota, then continued with the first Big Noon Kickoff game topping 5 million (in 2019, for example, Fox didn't score 5 million for a Big Noon game until Oct. 5). The audience grew for the Alabama-Miami game on ABC at 3:30, then crested with nearly 9 million tuning into the Clemson-Georgia slugfest in Charlotte -- while 3.2 million more people watched UCLA's upset of LSU at the same time on Fox.
Nearly 8 million people tuned in Sunday night for Notre Dame's overtime win over Florida State.
1. Georgia 10, Clemson 3 -- 8.863 million
2. Notre Dame 41, Florida State 38 -- 7.751 million
3. Ohio State 45, Minnesota 31 -- 6.295 million
4. Alabama 44, Miami 13 -- 5.674 million
5. Penn State 16, Wisconsin 10 -- 5.409 million
Here are the same games compared to games in similar broadcast windows from 2019.
1. Georgia 10, Clemson 3 -- 8.863 million (+29% vs. Oregon-Auburn)
2. Notre Dame 41, Florida State 38 -- 7.751 million (+42% vs. Houston-Oklahoma)
3. Ohio State 45, Minnesota 31 -- 6.295 million (no comparable game)
4. Alabama 44, Miami 13 -- 5.674 million (+22% vs. Alabama-Duke)
5. Penn State 16, Wisconsin 10 -- 5.409 million (+106% vs. Ohio State-FAU)
The one window that lost head-to-head with 2019 was ESPN's Labor Day game. Ole Miss's blowout of Louisville got 3.08 million compared to a Notre Dame 35-17 defeat of Louisville in 2019 that drew 5.6 million. Turns out the Irish are a TV draw. Who knew?
Now, one week does not make a trend and one can argue we were blessed with better matchups in 2021 vs. 2019, but we were also armed with the perspective of a Labor Day weekend without big time college football.
These numbers say, given the option, we'd prefer to spend our Labor Day weekend on our couch watching college football.