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Alabama-Clemson Championship Rematch Is Less Popular This Time

  • Ratings dropped 2.6 percent compared with 2015 championship
  • College football playoff viewership up 9 percent from year ago

More than 26 million people watched Clemson beat Alabama for the 2016 college football national championship, a 2.6 percent drop compared with last year’s title game.

The three games that made up this year’s College Football Playoff averaged 22.2 million viewers on ESPN’s main cable and streaming networks. That’s a 9 percent improvement over last year’s ratings, which suffered because the semifinals started at 4 p.m. on the East Coast on New Year’s Eve, a Thursday. But the ratings haven’t yet reached the 28 million who watched the first year of playoff games on Jan. 1, 2015.

This year’s semifinals started at 3 p.m., and Dec. 31 fell on a Saturday. The games will return to New Year’s Day this season. Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN is paying $7.3 billion to broadcast the College Football Playoffs through 2026.

With ratings nearly flat for the title game and up 15 percent for the seven college bowl games overall, college football stands in contrast to the National Football League. NFL ratings fell sharply in the beginning of the season, which pitted games against the U.S. presidential debates and overall election coverage. While NFL ratings on NBC and Fox have recovered, the audience for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” has continued to decline.