This year’s College Football Playoff semifinals was the first time it finally felt like their longtime goal of “changing the paradigm” of New Year’s Eve was acheived. After years of many disappointing and lopsided semifinal games, we finally saw two close, compelling, exciting games on New Year’s Eve as both Michigan-TCU and Ohio State-Georgia went down to the wire in the national semifinals. The results were some of the best ever ratings for the college football version of the final four. The two games averaged 21.7 million viewers on ESPN, the highest ever away from New Year’s Day and up a whopping 28% over last year’s games.
Now the attention turns to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game between Georgia and TCU. It promises to be a fascinating case study. The CFP is coming off its two least-watched games of the playoff era with a COVID-impacted Ohio State-Alabama game drawing 18.7 million and last year’s Georgia-Alabama contest reaching 22.6 million. Unfortunately for the powers that be in college football, it was the lowest viewership totals since the 2005 BCS title game. Will Georgia’s quest for back-to-back titles as the preeminent program in the sport draw viewers the same way Ohio State or Michigan searching for another title could have? Has TCU’s incredible march to the title game inspired the masses as the biggest outsider of the playoff era? Or will fans be ambivalent to the storylines after those thrilling semifinal games reached their conclusion. Our staff have their say on what we’ll see and how many will watch the game on Monday night.
Sean Keeley: 21.4 million viewers. I’m a big fan of chaos in college football and TCU making the national championship game, sadly, is what qualifies as chaos. Of course, chaos usually means bad ratings because everyone would have been much more excited for Michigan vs. Ohio State. We know the CFP semis pulled in monster ratings, averaging 21.7 million viewers, which is up 28% from 2022 and the highest since 2018. While we might expect to see some dropoff from last year’s 22.6 million for Alabama vs. Georgia, I like to think that audiences are just happy to see someone other than Alabama in the title game, even if Georgia is becoming old familiar. Ultimately, I’m going to say that we come in just a little under that at 21.4 million, a very respectable number for a fresh championship matchup that promises some offensive fireworks.
Ken Fang: 24.1 million viewers. Last year’s College Football Playoff National Championship averaged 22.6 million viewers and that was for UGA-Alabama. With TCU in the ultimate game with Georgia, there will be a bump in viewership, but not much. I’m going to say the game will attract 24.1 million viewers. The 12-team playoff cannot come soon enough to inject some new life into the CFP. Right now, the event is tired.
Michael Dixon: 29 million viewers. The last two national championship games have had the two worst viewership totals of the CFP era. On the surface, Georgia vs. TCU doesn’t have anything close to the appeal of Georgia vs. Alabama or Alabama vs. Ohio State. But I’m still bullish. We’ve rarely had any good semifinal games, let alone two great ones like we got this year. That will only spark people’s interest. It won’t approach the first championship game of the CFP era, but I’ll say 29 million.
Phillip Bupp: 23.5 million viewers. I don’t think the matchup is as good as last year when it comes to neutral fans tuning in. No offense TCU, your fanbase is top notch, but I’ve seen it enough times where neutrals love seeing the underdog until it comes to actually seeing them play. That being said, now that kickoff is at 7:30 ET and it’s possible that the game ends before midnight in the eastern time zone, if it’s a relatively close game ESPN should be able to increase viewership based on that.
Michael Grant: 19 million viewers. TCU is a tremendous story but it’s hard to see the Horned Frogs moving the needle in primetime, especially when it comes to the casual sports fan. Not having Michigan and Jim Harbaugh in the title game will hurt. And Georgia doesn’t have that one national star to focus on. Stetson Bennett could walk into your living room and you wouldn’t recognize him.
Ben Koo: 21.8 million viewers. Coming off two great ratings for the semifinals, I am not of the thought we’ll see that carry over to the Championship game. Ohio State and Michigan are two fanbases that drove a lot of those semifinal audiences. Coupled with two of the best semifinal games we’ve ever had, fans tuned in. TCU is a much smaller fanbase and coupled with fatigue of Georgia once again in the Championship game and perceived to be a double digit favorite, I think this game is probably not going to be appointment viewing for a lot of casual fans, especially if Georgia gets up early. I’ll go 21.8 million, in another rare year where the semifinals outshine the championship game.