Which college football programs bring in the most TV viewers?

Michigan and Ohio State were among the most-watched football programs from 2015–19.

A couple weeks back, I took a look at which college football programs are the most valuable in this round of conference realignment.

I got a lot of positive feedback from that, and I truly believe it’s the best ranking you’ll find when it comes to evaluating each college football programs’ value to TV networks right now.

But one complaint I got from a few fans was that those ranking didn’t include TV viewership numbers. We are talking about value to TV networks, after all.

I don’t find TV viewership numbers to be a good way to measure value for a few reasons:

  1. The data can be hard to track down, and streaming numbers aren’t always included.
  2. The time of day and channel make a big impact on viewership numbers, and certain conferences own certain viewing windows. A USC-Oregon game can’t be played in the 3:30 CBS window, because that (currently) belongs to the SEC.
  3. The data can be skewed by outliers. For example, more than 7 million people watched Ohio State beat TCU in 2018. That’s TCU’s most-viewed game of the last five years, by far. But how much of that really had to do with TCU? The Horned Frogs get the benefit of that number, but the game probably would have been viewed by just as many people if you swapped in Baylor or Texas Tech.
  4. Each conference only has so many quality viewing windows, so the lower-end teams in each conference are hurt disproportionally by this metric. For example, Rutgers, Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky rarely ever get to play in one of the Big Ten’s or SEC’s prime windows simply because of the teams they’re competing with for those spots.

Remember, too, that TV networks pay for these game before they air, not after.

Networks sign these deals years ahead of time for the value they expect to get. They don’t know which teams are going to be ranked in the Top 10 five years from now. They’re not looking for programs that are on a roll right now (Iowa State), they’re looking for programs that have high upside (Southern Cal) and/or low downside (Texas).

But you asked about TV numbers, and I had some time off from my real job, so I looked into it.

I wanted a big sample size, so I logged 1,516 regular-season games with available viewership data from the five-year span of 2015-19 (I left out 2020 for obvious reasons). That includes every televised game involving Notre Dame, BYU, Army or a team from the Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Big 12, Pac-12, AAC or Mountain West.

Ranking the most watched college football programs

Alabama and Georgia were among the most-watched college football programs from 2015–19.

The rankings include every Power 5 team, every AAC team, every Mountain West team, plus Notre Dame, BYU and Army.

The numbers next to each school indicate the average number of viewers per week from 2015–19. Streaming numbers are included when available.

Conference championship games and bowl games are not included in these numbers. Games that do not have available data were counted as zero.

  1. Ohio State (5.19M)
  2. Alabama (5.09M)
  3. Michigan (4.18M)
  4. Notre Dame (3.61M)
  5. LSU (3.22M)
  6. Auburn (3.12M)
  7. Georgia (2.91M)
  8. Oklahoma (2.90M)
  9. Clemson (2.67M)
  10. Penn State (2.55M)
  11. Florida (2.46M)
  12. Wisconsin (2.27M)
  13. Texas (2.269M)
  14. Florida State (2.23M)
  15. Michigan State (2.20M)
  16. Southern Cal (1.98M)
  17. Texas A&M (1.851M)
  18. Tennessee (1.849M)
  19. Oklahoma State (1.64M)
  20. Mississippi (1.61M)
  21. Iowa (1.57M)
  22. Nebraska (1.51M)
  23. Miami (1.503M)
  24. TCU (1.495M)
  25. Stanford (1.43M)
  26. Oregon (1.34M)
  27. Arkansas (1.33M)
  28. Washington (1.32M)
  29. Mississippi State (1.31M)
  30. West Virginia (1.27M)
  31. Virginia Tech (1.26M)
  32. UCLA (1.25M)
  33. Louisville (1.22M)
  34. Indiana (1.17M)
  35. Baylor (1.12M)
  36. South Carolina (1.07M)
  37. Navy (1.01M)
  38. Texas Tech (921K)
  39. Washington State (909K)
  40. Northwestern (867K)
  41. Utah (856K)
  42. Army (825K)
  43. Minnesota (803K)
  44. Pittsburgh (781K)
  45. North Carolina (749K)
  46. Iowa State (747K)
  47. California (730K)
  48. BYU (714K)
  49. NC State (703K)
  50. Arizona State (695K)
  51. Syracuse (694K)
  52. Houston (689K)
  53. Kansas State (682K)
  54. Maryland (681K)
  55. Purdue (620K)
  56. Georgia Tech (615K)
  57. Missouri (611K)
  58. Colorado (610K)
  59. Virginia (592K)
  60. UCF (566K)
  61. Memphis (564K)
  62. Arizona (561K)
  63. Kentucky (484K)
  64. Boise State (476K)
  65. Vanderbilt (438K)
  66. Cincinnati (430K)
  67. Duke (410K)
  68. USF (407K)
  69. Boston College (403K)
  70. Illinois (401K)
  71. Wake Forest (398K)
  72. Temple (354K)
  73. Kansas (346K)
  74. Oregon State (295K)
  75. Rutgers (266K)
  76. Tulsa (265K)
  77. SMU (232K)
  78. Colorado State (130K)
  79. Fresno State (127K)
  80. Wyoming (126K)
  81. Air Force (121K)
  82. New Mexico (97K)
  83. Hawaii (94K)
  84. East Carolina (82K)
  85. Nevada (80K)
  86. San Diego State (63K)
  87. UNLV (55K)
  88. Tulane (42K)
  89. San Jose State (30K)

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