The Walt Disney Co. this afternoon gave advertisers their first glimpse at how the fall college football schedule was shaping up on ABC and ESPN, teasing the first three installments of Saturday Night Football while also breaking down some of the initial run of its cable games.
Speaking during the company’s upfront table-setter (the main sales pitch is slated to begin today at 4 p.m. EDT), Burke Magnus, ESPN’s executive VP of programming and original content, offered a sneak peek at the coming season, which kicks off Sept. 4 on ABC with a pair of ACC-SEC scraps. First up is an afternoon slugfest between defending national champs Alabama and Miami, followed by a primetime showdown between Clemson and Georgia.
The ABC doubleheader features a relatively uncommon pairing in Clemson-Georgia, and the first Miami-‘Bama meeting since the 1993 Sugar Bowl. In a game that Hurricane faithful would just as soon forget, the Crimson Tide stomped the ‘Canes 34-13, ending their bid for consecutive national championships.
Meanwhile, the Tigers and Bulldogs aren’t exactly terribly familiar with one another, either, as the last time these two teams squared off was back in 2014. Georgia’s 45-21 rout of the visitors from Clemson averaged 3.95 million viewers and a 2.5 household rating on ESPN.
ABC expects to draw a far bigger crowd than that earlier blowout, as both teams look to be ranked among the top five before they take the field at Bank of America Stadium. And if the battle in the trenches isn’t sufficient reason to tune in, fans who bypass the game will miss out on the revival of the full college football experience, as a capacity crowd of 75,412 is expected to be on hand in Charlotte for the season opener.
The Saturday doubleheader is just the start of the opening weekend, which continues the following night with Florida State-Notre Dame and wraps on Labor Day with ESPN’s presentation of Louisville-Ole Miss. The Seminoles will look to avenge their 42-13 demolition at the hands of the Fighting Irish in 2018, a primetime humiliation that netted NBC $5.1 million in ad sales revenue. As for ESPN’s first college football telecast of the new season, there is no historical data for the Cards-Rebels pairing, as this marks the first time in history that these two schools will meet up.
The following week finds Texas and Arkansas butting heads on ESPN, while later that same night (Sept. 11), ABC’s Saturday Night Football slate continues with a Washington-Michigan clash. On the 18th, ABC hosts Auburn-Penn State. Saturday Night Football earned bragging rights as the fourth highest-rated primetime sports program of the 2020-21 TV season, and with an average draw of 1.1 million adults 18-49, the ABC college football showcase out-delivered all but nine of the season’s 74 scripted broadcast series.
Magnus also offered guidance on some of Disney’s more distant games, including an Oct. 9 doubleheader that starts with the 117th Red River Showdown in Dallas before moving on to Notre Dame-West Virginia, in what will be only the fourth matchup between those two teams. Last year’s Texas-Oklahoma game was suitably nuts, as the unranked Sooners beat No. 22 Texas 53-45 in quadruple overtime. The game in the last two years has generated a cumulative $12 million in ad revenue for Fox.
Down the road, Clemson and Florida State renew their rivalry on Oct. 30, while Oklahoma and Oklahoma State luxuriate in the Bedlam Series on the Saturday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 27). As with the Red River Showdown and the Irish-Mountaineers game, Disney has yet to determine which of its networks will air these later outings. ABC’s 2020 Oklahoma State-Oklahoma broadcast averaged 4.10 million viewers and a 2.3 rating, while Clemson’s 45-14 evisceration of FSU in 2019 eked out just 2.54 million and a 1.6 rating for the network.
Disney will provide a further update about its 2021 college football schedule on Thursday, May 27.
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