The National Football Foundation (NFF) & College Hall of Fame highlighted numerous powerful facts from the 2016 college football season that emphasize the strong popularity of college football among millions of fans across the country.
“The already intense interest in college football continues to grow,” said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell. “Embracing ever changing technology, the leaders of our sport have done a spectacular job in ensuring that the fan experience not only keeps pace but sets the standard in innovation. We are grateful to the conferences, bowl games and the media for their creativity and commitment in delivering a first-class product that allows fans to experience the game in every imaginable way.”
The top highlights include:
Digital Era Continues to Grow:
The 2016 college football season continued the increasing trend of fans watching games through means other than traditional outlets. ESPN college football games were streamed on 15,128,000 unique devices during the 2016 college football regular season, setting a new ESPN college football regular season record and surpassing last year’s record by more than 17 percent. ESPN streamed its four most-watched regular season games ever this season and eight of the 10 most ever, and the network saw its five most-streamed college football regular season weeks ever this season. FOX Sports GO also saw increased streaming numbers, including significant online audiences for the Big Ten and Pac-12 championships.
The College Football Playoff (CFP) National Championship set ESPN records for a college football game in streaming average audience, unique viewers and total minutes watched, with the stream’s 2,413,000 unique viewers marking ESPN’s third best across all sports, trailing only two USA World Cup games. Streaming audiences for the three CFP games (championship and two semifinals) and the entire New Year’s Six were the highest in the three years of the CFP model.
Major Networks See Steady Growth in Viewership:
For the eighth consecutive year the SEC on CBS was the highest-rated regular season college football package on any network, boasting a 3.4 average rating.
ABC’s Saturday Night Football was the most-watched college football franchise on any network this season, delivering an average total live audience** of 6.087 million viewers and a 3.5 rating, seeing increases in its TV and streaming audiences.
The 117th Army-Navy Game on CBS was the highest-rated and most-watched game between the rivals since 1999 and 1992, respectively.
More than 179 million fans (weeks 1-13) watched more than 100 billion minutes of college football games on ESPN’s Nielsen-rated television networks, an increase from the 2015 season. ESPN’s networks had their best opening weekend ever, reaching more than 81 million fans from Sept. 1-5. Michigan at Ohio State on ABC was the most-watched game of the season on any network, generating a total live audience** of 17.12 million viewers and setting both television and streaming records in the process.
FOX Sports recorded its most-watched college football season ever in 2016 with an average audience of 1.32 million viewers on the FOX broadcast network and FS1. FS1 saw a huge jump in 2016, with a 23 percent viewership increase over 2015.
NCAA Programs Attract More Than 49 Million Fans:
The 668 NCAA football programs (FBS, FCS, DII and DIII) drew 49,315,857 fans at home games, neutral-site games and postseason games in 2016, an increase of 257,891 total fans over the 2015 season. The numbers symbolize a phenomenal increase of 158 percent from the 19,134,159 fans that the NCAA reported when they first started collecting attendance figures in 1948*. The American Athletic Conference and the Sun Belt set records for single-season total attendance. Division II attracted a single-season record 3,217,080 total fans in 2016.
The 41 bowl games this season (including the CFP National Championship) attracted 1,710,424 spectators to the stands (41,718 per contest), and 16 bowl games had crowds in excess of 45,000. In all, 20 bowl games reported larger crowds in 2016.