More than 22 million people watched ESPN’s combined telecasts of the College Football Playoff final between the University of Alabama and the University of Georgia on Monday night, according to the network, a major increase from last year’s record low viewership totals but still well below prior national championship games as Americans increasingly migrate to the National Football League.
Monday’s national championship game drew 22.6 million viewers across ESPN’s broadcasts, a 19% increase compared to last year’s final, ESPN said Tuesday.
Nearly 30% of all television viewers tuned into Monday’s game, a record high market share for any national championship game, according to ESPN.
Viewership still lagged compared to previous years: This year’s game scored the second-lowest ratings since the College Football Playoff began in its current form in 2015, sinking 11% below the 25.3 million average viewers who watched in 2019, according to Nielsen data compiled by Sports Media Watch.
Georgia beat Alabama 33-18 in the contest, giving the university its first national championship since 1980.
College football pales in comparison to the NFL in terms of viewership, a gap worsened by the pandemic. CBS and Fox averaged 21.6 million and 23.1 million viewers, respectively, for their primary national NFL broadcasts during the 2021 regular seasons, while NFL viewership overall was at its highest level since 2015, up 10% from 2020, per Sports Business Journal. Television ratings for professional sports struggled during 2020 and early 2021, but have recovered strongly. College football has struggled more than the NFL in regaining viewership, potentially due to the fallout from a pandemic-altered 2020 season and more gambling interest in the NFL.
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Whether the College Football Playoff changes its four-team format. College Football Playoff leadership met Monday to discuss expanding the field to eight or 12 teams, though an agreement was not reached.