Vegas oddsmakers may have generously overestimated the offensive firepower on display, but Monday night’s Tostitos BCS National Championship game on ESPN was still one for the record books. Auburn’s last-second win over Oregon delivered an average 27.3 million total viewers, making it the most-watched program in the history of cable TV.
The first title game to be broadcast on cable, the Tigers-Ducks thriller outdrew six of the last 10 championship broadcasts on Fox and ABC. It’s worth noting that 2004 was a bit of a wildcard; that year, the title was shared by LSU and USC.
Compared to last year’s Alabama-Texas matchup on ABC, the 2011 BCS topper was down 11 percent in total viewers. ABC’s broadcast of the Jan. 7, 2010 game averaged 30.8 million total viewers, per Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings estimates. That said, last night’s championship brawl showed a 2 percent lift when compared to the 2009 finale on Fox. Florida’s 24-14 victory over Oklahoma drew 26.8 million fans.
The lowest-rated championship game in the 25 years was ABC’s New Year’s Day coverage of the 1990 Sugar Bowl (7.4 HH rating). In the last dozen years, the least-watched title game was the 2005 Orange Bowl, a 55-19 USC drubbing of Oklahoma that drew 21.4 million viewers.
Last night’s contest now stands as the third most-watched BCS title telecast since the formation of the series. It also beat out the previous record for a cable telecast; ESPN’s Oct. 5, 2009, Packers-Vikings Monday Night Football telecast averaged 21.8 million viewers.
Here’s how the BCS capper stands up to other marquee sporting events of 2010: With 27.3 million viewers watching nationwide, the Auburn-Orgeon fight out-delivered Game Four of the MLB World Series by 76 percent—the most-watched of the five-game set drew 15.5 million viewers to Fox on Halloween night—and beat the Duke-Butler NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship broadcast on CBS (23.9 million) by 14 percent.
The Auburn-Oregon telecast also beat NBC’s prime-time average for its presentation of the 2010 Winter Olympics from Vancouver (24.5 million).
There were a handful of bigger draws since Jan. 1, 2010. Game Seven of the NBA Finals on ABC edged last night’s BCS game by 3 percent, as the Lakers beat the Celtics for the crown in front of a TV audience of 28.2 million.
The college football finale was also no match for the 2011 NFL Playoffs––Jets-Colts on NBC scared up 33.4 million fans, giving the Peacock its best Saturday night since the deployment of Nielsen’s People Meter (1987)––while Packers-Eagles on Fox delivered a whopping 39.3 million viewers Sunday afternoon. Even the two lower-rated Wild Card games beat out the BCS, as Ravens-Chiefs drew 28.5 million on CBS and Seattle-New Orleans notched 28.4 million on NBC.
Naturally, nothing even comes close to the Super Bowl. With an average delivery of 106.5 million viewers, CBS’ coverage of Super Bowl XLIV (Saints-Colts) now stands as the most-watched program in the history of television, beating the 1983 series finale of M*A*S*H.