NFL Fans Turning to College Football

AP Photo

If you’ve wondered where all the fans who bailed on the NFL went to get their football fix, the latest Nielsen numbers indicate a lot of them might have turned to college football.

According to the TV by the Numbers report for Saturday October 22, “ABC’s Saturday Night College Football telecast wasn’t quite as big as last week’s game, but it was still far and away the No. 1 show on broadcast TV in primetime. Penn State’s upset of second-ranked Ohio State drew a 1.7 rating in adults 18-49, pending updates. That’s down from last week’s contest (Ohio State-Wisconsin) but more than a point better than anything else on the broadcast networks.”

Here’s the chart:

Time Show Adults 18-49 Rating/Share Viewers (millions)
8 p.m. Saturday Night College Football (ABC) (8-11 p.m.) 1.7/7 6.17
College Football (FOX) (8-11 p.m.) 0.6/2 2.41
MacGyver (CBS) – R 0.6/2 3.32
Superstore (NBC) – R 0.3/1 1.58
8:30 p.m. Movie: Identity Thief (NBC) (8:30-11 p.m.) 0.6/2 2.39
9 p.m. NCIS (CBS) – R 0.5/2 3.66
10 p.m. 48 Hours (CBS) 0.6/3 3.95

The numbers for this past Saturday October 29th:

Time Show Adults 18-49 Rating/Share Viewers (millions)
8 p.m. World Series Game 4 (FOX) (8-11 p.m.) 3.8/12 15.06
Saturday Night College Football (ABC) (8-11 p.m.) 1.4/5 4.65
Dateline Mystery (NBC) (8-10 p.m.) 0.6/3 3.6
Hawaii Five-O (CBS) – R 0.4/1 2.82
9 p.m. Criminal Minds (CBS) – R 0.4/1 2.46
10 p.m. 48 Hours (CBS) 0.6/3 3.99
SNL Vintage (NBC) 0.6/3 2.67


Clearly a pivotal Game Three of the World Series, especially one involving two teams with the longest championship droughts in history, will make for stiff competition. Even allowing for that, ABC’s Saturday Night College Football ranked #1 the week before when no NLCS game aired. College football ranked higher than any broadcast other than the World Series the next week.

Unlike the NFL’s primetime nosedive, college football’s primetime ratings show a strong pulse.

What could possibly explain this? Sure, one could cite the NFL’s oversaturation of the market with games on Thursday, all day Sunday, and Monday night, while college football tends to confine its major games to only one day of the week. You could make the case that referees haven’t completely destroyed the college game, as they have made pro games almost unwatchable.

However, the other major, possibly even massive, difference between the NFL and college football is that college football has not experienced a major surge of player-led anthem protests.

Just like the fad that the Kaepernick-inspired protests have become, most NCAA copycat protests sprung onto the scene and then fizzled out almost immediately. USA Today listed initial college protests:

  • Three volleyball players for West Virginia University Tech took a knee during “The Star Spangled Banner.”
  • Football players for University of Michigan and Michigan State raised their fists in the air prior to their Sept. 24 games.
  • At Florida State University, a woman on the volleyball team kneeled to highlight her discontent with racial tensions across the country. And around 200 students wore black while sitting during the national anthem before a game against North Carolina.

The article also cites an incident at the University of Nebraska in which players knelt during the anthem, and also the case of band members at East Carolina University who took a knee and refused to play the anthem.

Granted, a few protests might have gone unaccounted for here. On the other hand, when you think of the hundreds of different college programs and the thousands of games played, these six protest incidents, only two involving actual players on the football field, represent a very small percentage of the sport.

Polling suggests that most NFL fans who have stopped watching the league do so because of anthem protests. Those fans seem to now flock to a sport where, almost always, the only time someone takes a knee is on a touchback, or, for the victory formation.

Follow Dylan Gwinn on Twitter: @themightygwinn


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