Rose Bowl posts all-time low ratings as College Football Playoff expansion looms

Penn State vs. Utah had 10.2 million viewers, ESPN said

With big changes on the horizon, the Rose Bowl's ratings hit its lowest mark ever.

The 2023 Granddaddy of Them All between Penn State and Utah saw only 10.2 million viewers on ESPN, the network announced Wednesday. Per The Athletic, that number makes it the least-watched Rose Bowl on record, "beating" the 13.6 million mark held by 2016's Stanford-Iowa matchup.

By comparison, last year's Rose Bowl between Ohio State and Utah pulled in 16.6 million viewers.

Penn State won Monday's game 35-21.

The good news for ESPN is that its College Football Playoff bowls did just fine in the rating department, as the Fiesta Bowl (21.7 million viewers) and Peach Bowl (22.4 million) were the most-watched semifinal games in five years despite being on New Year's Eve.

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford (14) throws a pass during the second half in the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game against Utah Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
The Rose Bowl has hit a ratings low. Will the College Football Playoff expansion change things? (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Why were the Rose Bowl's ratings so low?

There are a number of potential explanations for the ratings lull, first and foremost being that the game was played on Jan. 2 instead of New Year's Day, which fell on a Sunday this year. The Rose Bowl traditionally moves a day back on such years to avoid a conflict with the NFL.

This was also a year in which the Rose Bowl wasn't a College Football Playoff bowl, and lost out both of the Big Ten's top two teams when Michigan and Ohio State made the playoff. Penn State is still a strong team when it comes to viewership, but it probably didn't get much help on the viewership given Utah's market size and repeat visit.

In the background is the ever-dwindling audience for cable TV, of which the Rose Bowl is not immune. However, The Athletic also notes that unlike Rose Bowls before 2020, this year's event factors in out-of-home audiences like bar patrons and watch parties, so this year's numbers are even worse when compared to the past.

All of this is happening two seasons before the Rose Bowl makes its big leap alongside all of the other College Football Playoff bowls. Starting with the 2024 season, the 12-team College Football Playoff will see the Rose Bowl play host to a quarterfinal game two out of every three years and a semifinal game in the other one.

The Rose Bowl was the last holdout against moving the set-up from its originally planned start in 2026, but its viewership probably figures to see a significant boost once the field expands, even if the usual tradition is stripped away.