TV ratings drop for Bison title game
FARGO — Before we get to the details, national television viewership numbers for Bison football games need to be kept in perspective. Since North Dakota State began its dynasty in 2011, more people around the United States have watched Bison football games than ever before.
This is mostly because ESPN and its family of platforms carry Football Championship Subdivision playoff games as part of its deal with the NCAA (all based on the mega-profitable men’s basketball tournament). So, since moving up to Division I and starting the FCS train rolling, NDSU gets infinitely more national television exposure than it did during its Division II dynasty days.
Here’s an anecdote to illustrate the point.
When NDSU played Indiana University of Pennsylvania for the 1990 Division II title in Florence, Ala., WDAY-TV and WDAZ-TV — owned by Forum Communications and the Bison broadcast rights holder at the time — purchased the rights from ESPN to televise the game locally. Ed Schultz was the WDAY sports director. He pursued that avenue because ESPN was going to tape-delay the game until 11 a.m. the next Monday.
According to a Forum story, ESPN televised the Division II title game live as long as the game kicked off at 10 a.m. Central (11 a.m. Eastern). Division II coaches voted against the early start and the NDSU-IUP game was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Central. So the game was shown live locally on WDAY-WDAZ, called by Schultz and Dana Mogck with a 12:30 p.m. local pregame show, while ESPN played the contest on tape delay two days later. ESPN’s broadcasters were Sean McDonough and Neil Lomax.
The Bison won 51-11 for their eighth national title, but last until 2011.
All of that said, NDSU title game viewership numbers Saturday dropped to their lowest level since the school moved to Division I.
NDSU’s seventh national championship in eight seasons attracted the fewest viewers of its historic run, according to Nielsen ratings released Tuesday. The Bison’s 38-24 victory over Eastern Washington attracted an estimated average of 1.004 million viewers on ESPN2.
The web site showbuzzdaily.com listed full week sports ratings for Dec. 31, 2018 through Jan. 6, 2019. The Bison-Eastern Washington game drew a 0.64 rating, meaning that percent of all TVs in the U.S. were tuned to the game. Among the key demographic of Adults 18-49, an estimated 278,000 people watched.
The FCS championship game was the lowest-rated regular college football telecast of the week. The Rose Bowl MegaCast shown on ESPN2, a mosaic-style presentation of the game using multiple cameras, drew an average of 607,000 viewers. The Sugar Bowl MegaCast on ESPN2 had 327,000.
The next lowest viewed college football game last week was the Holiday Bowl between Utah and Northwestern on Fox Sports 1, which drew an estimated average audience of 1.787 million.
By comparison, the highest-rated college game was the Rose Bowl between Washington and Ohio State, shown on ESPN. It drew an average audience of 16.175 million. The most-watched sports program of the week was the NFL playoff game between Philadelphia and Chicago on NBC, which attracted an average of 35.890 million viewers.
According to available data, viewership mostly grew for the title games involving the Bison since their run began in 2011.
NDSU’s victory over James Madison in January 2018 drew an average of 1.515 million viewers, the Bison’s highest-rated championship game.
Other Bison title game viewership numbers include: 1.35 million vs. Jacksonville State in January 2016; 1.44 million vs. Illinois State in January 2015; 1.2 million vs. Towson in January 2014; and 1.1 million vs. Sam Houston State in January 2013.
No figures were available for NDSU’s first championship, which came against Sam Houston State in January 2012.
The Bison’s quarterfinal playoff game this season against Colgate, carried by ESPN, drew an average of 1.806 million viewers, according to Nielsen. That would make it the second-highest rated NDSU game. The tops was NDSU’s quarterfinal game against South Dakota State in 2016, which averaged 1.984 million viewers on ESPN.
This season’s semifinal game against SDSU, on ESPN2, averaged 846,000 viewers.
ESPN games often attract more viewers than ESPN2 because the flagship is carried in more homes.
Here are some TV numbers from Nielsen for Bison games over the years, via showbuzzdaily.com:
NDSU vs. South Dakota State in FCS quarterfinals on ESPN in Dec. 2016 drew an average of 1.984 million viewers. It is the most-viewed television Bison football game.
NDSU vs. Colgate in FCS quarterfinals on ESPN in Dec. 2018 drew an average of 1.806 million viewers.
NDSU vs. Northern Iowa in FCS quarterfinals on ESPN in Dec. 2015, 1.644 million.
NDSU vs. James Madison in FCS title game in Jan. 2018 drew average of 1.515 million viewers.
NDSU vs. Jacksonville State in FCS title game in Jan. 2016, 1.35 million.
NDSU vs. Illinois State in FCS title game in Jan. 2015, 1.44 million.
NDSU vs. Towson in FCS title game in Jan. 2014, 1.2 million.
NDSU vs. Sam Houston in Jan. 2013, 1.1 million.
NDSU vs. Montana in FCS Kickoff game in Aug. 2015 on ESPN, 981,000.
NDSU vs. Wofford in FCS quarterfinals in Dec. 2017 on ESPN2, 849,000.
NDSU vs. SDSU in FCS semifinals in Dec. 2018, 846,000.
NDSU vs. Charleston Southern in FCS Kickoff game in Aug. 2016 on ESPN, 797,000.
NDSU vs. Sam Houston State in FCS semifinals in Dec. 2017 on ESPN2, 604,000.
NDSU vs. Kansas State in Aug. 2013 on Fox Sports 1, 585,000.