Michigan's Rose Bowl win over Alabama is most watched non-NFL sporting event since 2018

The overtime game had a peak audience of more than 32 million

The final Rose Bowl of the four-team College Football Playoff drew a massive television audience.

ESPN said Tuesday that Michigan’s overtime win over Alabama had an average audience of 27.2 million viewers. It’s the most watched College Football Playoff semifinal game since Alabama’s loss to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl after the 2014 season.

That was the first year of the College Football Playoff after the BCS was replaced following the end of the 2013 season. And much like that game, Monday’s Rose Bowl featured two of the most popular programs in the country.

The network said the Wolverines’ 27-20 win registered a peak audience of nearly 33 million — a figure that is better than any other peak audience in a semifinal game. The Rose Bowl was the most watched sporting event that wasn’t an NFL game since 2018, when Alabama's dramatic national title game win over Georgia drew an average audience of 28.4 million.

Washington’s unexpectedly dramatic Sugar Bowl win over Texas had an average audience of 18.4 million and a peak audience of 24.5 million. It was the fourth-most watched Sugar Bowl of the past two decades.

The big ratings come as the playoff is looking for a new television contract upon its expansion to 12 teams at the end of the 2024 season. So far, there haven’t been any public indications of a bidding war between ESPN and multiple other entities for the rights to the expanded postseason.

The Rose Bowl audience reinforces how college football thrives on New Year’s Day. Thanks to the stubbornness of the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, semifinal games are held on other days when the two bowls are not part of the playoff. A year ago, the Peach Bowl was the most watched semifinal with 22.45 million viewers.

The playoff would be well-served to figure out how its Sugar Bowl TV conundrum, however. Thanks to the length of the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl didn’t kick off until after 9 p.m. ET. The late kickoff time likely led to lower ratings than last season’s Fiesta Bowl, when 21.7 million people watched TCU’s win over Michigan a year ago on New Year’s Eve.