Monday’s Rose Bowl game between Penn State and Utah drew a TV audience of 10.2 million viewers on ESPN, making it the least-watched Rose Bowl on record.
The game, played Jan. 2 of this year because Jan. 1 fell on Sunday, was down nearly 40% from last year’s Ohio State-Utah broadcast (16.6 million). The previous Rose Bowl low was 13.6 million for Stanford-Iowa in 2016.
The Rose Bowl was still the most-watched non-semifinal bowl of the season, eclipsing the Dec. 31 Alabama–Kansas State Sugar Bowl (9.1 million) and Dec. 30 Tennessee–Clemson Orange Bowl (8.7 million), both also on ESPN. Tulane’s spectacular 46-45 victory over USC in the Cotton Bowl, which aired just before the Rose, drew just 4.2 million people, the lowest of any New Year’s Bowl since the format began current in 2014, and lower than this year’s Gator, Cheez-Bols It and Alamo, per ESPN.
However, thanks to the highest number of viewers in the semi-finals in five years – 22.4 million for the Georgia-Ohio State Peach Bowl and 21.7 million for the TCU-Michigan Fiesta Bowl – the entire ESPN’s New Year’s Six package averaged nearly 13 million viewers, its most-watched programming in three years.
The Rose Bowl, which originated in 1902, was long the most-watched bowl each year before the establishment of the BCS and later the college football playoffs. It consistently drew more than 20 million viewers through the 2000s and early 2010s — peaking as high as 35.6 million for the 2006 Texas-USC national championship game — but has been steadily declining for years. does not host a semi-final.
Last month, the Tournament of Roses reluctantly signed a deal allowing the college football playoffs to expand to 12 teams in 2024-25. Bowl officials were seeking assurances that the game would retain its exclusive 2 p.m. PT television window on New Year’s Day when the CFP negotiates its next contract.
The Pasadena game will host a semi-final next season under the CFP’s current rotation, and then is expected to host quarter-finals in the first two years of the new system.
How audience tracking has changed since 2020
It’s important to note that Rose Bowl’s viewership, like all shows and especially live sports, prior to 2020 did not include outdoor audiences, i.e. people watching in bars, restaurants, hotels and viewing parties at other homes. This can add thousands or even millions of viewers to major viewership metrics for sporting events, meaning older Rose Bowls had larger eyeball totals than officials’ totals.
While gaming was a new low audience, it was still #2 in cable’s top viewership demographics — the numbers brands want to see when they pay for in-game TV advertising — after the TV show. Bills-Bengals “Monday Night Football” which was notable for the horrific injury suffered by a Bills player which ultimately ended the game early. Like everything else on television, the Rose Bowl was also played amid the current cord-cutting trend that has siphoned more than 30 million American homes from the cable ecosystem over the past five years, new subscriptions to streaming services not closing the gap. Live sports remain the most resilient to the TV industry’s ongoing ratings woes, but aren’t immune – despite the game’s viewership numbers being shockingly low.
ESPN currently pays $470 million a year to air the college football playoff finals, plus separate fees for television rights to the Rose, Orange, Cotton and Sugar bowls, bringing the combined annual cost of the rights to more. of $600 million. — Shea
(Photo: Kirby Lee/USA Today)