An average of over 20 million people watched No. 3 Clemson’s win over No. 2 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday night.
According to ESPN, 21.2 million people saw the game on the network’s various channels, making it the most-watched College Football Playoff semifinal game that wasn’t played on New Year’s Day.
New Year’s Day traditionally draws the most college football viewership of the season outside of the national title game. But with the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl refusing to hold their events on any day outside of the Jan. 1, the playoff semifinals are held on different dates when it’s the Cotton Bowl’s, Fiesta Bowl’s, Orange Bowl’s and Peach Bowl’s turns to have the game.
The most-watched playoff semifinal is still Ohio State’s win over Alabama in the 2015 Sugar Bowl in the first year of the playoff. That game barely outdrew the Rose Bowl that preceded it.
ESPN said that over 17 million people watched No. 1 LSU’s destruction of No. 4 Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl before Clemson’s win over Ohio State. And, unsurprisingly, that game’s audience peaked in the first half as Joe Burrow’s seven passing touchdowns before the break put the game way out of reach.
The ratings news is undoubtedly vindication for the playoff’s decision to move the games to Saturday. When the playoff released its initial schedule of games, the two semifinals were originally scheduled for Tuesday night on New Year’s Eve.
But the playoff moved games off New Year’s Eve after seeing significant viewer declines for semifinals that were held on the traditional party night. The least-watched semifinal is Clemson’s win over Oklahoma on Dec. 31, 2015.
The decision to move Saturday’s games up three days leaves a massive gap in the schedule, however. Clemson and LSU won’t meet for the national title until Jan. 13, 16 days after their semifinal games.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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