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Now in its third year, the College Football Playoffs has seen ebbs and flows in television audience numbers due, in part, to timing. For sponsoring and presenting sponsors, the stakes are high and we have seen that timing is key.

In its first year, the CFP semifinal games drew a collective 56.435 million viewers and pulled 33.4 million for the title game between Ohio State and Oregon.

Last year, the CFP semifinals moved from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 and the numbers dropped significantly. The two New Year’s Eve semis drew a collective 34.371 million viewers, down an astounding 39% from the year prior. Additionally, the National Championship viewership dropped 23% to 25.7 million.

The 2016 CFP semifinal audience bounced back a bit from a tough 2015, but the effects of New Year’s Eve competition still lingered. The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and the Playstation Fiesta Bowl combined for 38.580 million viewers, up 12.25% from the prior year, but still way down compared to the 2014-15 season’s New Year’s Day semis.


With nearly all factors equal between 2015 and 2016, including semifinal date and championship matchup, the upward trend indicates that college football fans are on board with the young CFP system and numbers should continue to climb (especially considering a 12% jump in semifinal viewership despite Washington earning a spot in the Final Four). This trend should get a shot in the arm next year, as the semifinals move back to Jan. 1 where we have already seen tremendous TV audience turnout.

So what does this mean for sponsors? Everything.

Even for non-title and non-presenting CFP sponsors like Taco Bell, who has presence in each New Year’s Six game plus the National Championship, a potential 20%, 23% or even 25% bump in viewership next year is money in the bank. It goes without saying that to next year’s semifinal sponsors, Northwestern Mutual and Allstate, a New Year’s Day contest means even more given the more limited timing of a captive audience. Though a predicted bump in viewership may not translate congruently with sales or purchase intent, it will certainly bolster sponsors’ return on investment.

Sponsoring a College Football Playoff or New Year’s Six game brings tremendous value to brands. As the CFP continues to evolve and adjust, the value a sponsorship brings will grow, too.

It’s just a matter of time.