Sugar Bowl upsets ‘Sunday Night Football’ to hand off sweet ratings victory to ESPN

A touchdown pass
Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave catches a touchdown pass in front of Clemson cornerback Derion Kendrick in the Sugar Bowl, the highest-rated program last week.
(Associated Press)

The Sugar Bowl telecast ended “Sunday Night Football’s” nine-week streak as prime-time television’s top-rated program and helped ESPN finish first in the weekly ratings race.

Ohio State’s 49-28 upset of Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal Friday averaged 18.854 million viewers, the largest audience for a non-NFL sporting event and any cable program since LSU’s 42-25 victory over Clemson in the College Football Playoff national championship averaged 25.583 million viewers on Jan. 13, 2020, according to live-plus-same-day figures released Wednesday by Nielsen.

ESPN’s telecast of the afternoon College Football Playoff semifinal, Alabama’s 31-14 victory over Notre Dame in the relocated Rose Bowl, averaged 18.372 million viewers.


Washington’s 20-14 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” averaged 16.547 million viewers, second among prime-time programs airing between Dec. 28 and Sunday.

Viewership was 9.9% less than the previous week’s “Sunday Night Football” game, a 40-14 victory by the Green Bay Packers over the Tennessee Titans that averaged 18.374 million viewers.

The combination of four nights of bowl telecasts and “Monday Night Football” made ESPN the week’s most-watched network, averaging 6.237 million viewers.

In a week when the major broadcast networks limited first-run entertainment programming to New Year’s Eve and Sunday, NBC averaged 4.56 million viewers, ABC 4.13 million and CBS 4 million, all for 22 hours of programming.

Fox averaged 2.8 million viewers for its 15 hours of prime-time programming.

The week’s nonsports program with the biggest audience was the 10-11 p.m. segment of ABC’s New Year’s Eve programming, which averaged 11.231 million viewers, seventh for the week.

The premiere of the Fox comedy “Call Me Kat” averaged 5.625 million viewers, 15th for the week, fifth among nonsports programs and fourth among entertainment programs.

The premiere of the Fox animated comedy “Great North” that followed “Call Me Kat” averaged 2.339 million viewers, 69th for the week and 42nd among entertainment programs. It was Fox’s fourth highest-rated entertainment program behind “Call Me Kat,” the season premiere of “Last Man Standing” and a rerun of “9-1-1.”

Fox News Channel finished second among cable networks behind ESPN for the second consecutive week, averaging 1.734 million viewers. CNN was third, averaging 1.622 million viewers.

The Netflix romantic drama “Virgin River” was the most-streamed program on the four streaming services measured by Nielsen in the first full week that its 10-episode second season was available.

Viewers watched 1.793 billion minutes of “Virgin River’s” 20 episodes between Nov. 30 and Dec. 6, according to Nielsen’s latest streaming report, which was released Monday.

“Virgin River” was third the previous week, with 1.295 billion minutes watched. Its second season was released Nov. 27.

“The Crown” was second for the week after back-to-back first-place finishes in the first two full weeks its fourth season was available, with viewers watching 1.458 billion minutes of the 40 episodes of the Netflix drama about the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

Nielsen measures viewership for Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu.