NCAAF

ESPN tackles the challenges of covering the historic College Football Playoff format

The College Football National Championship trophy during the Rose Bowl Game. (Scott Clarke/ESPN Images)
The College Football National Championship Trophy. (Scott Clarke/ESPN Images)

With the eyes of the sports world focused on the new College Football Playoff format, ESPN’s record viewership for the New Year’s Six telecasts – the semifinals and four additional premier bowls on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day that are part of the Playoff – demonstrated the popularity of the new format as the network posted the two largest audiences in cable television history for the semifinals and ESPN’s most-viewed New Year’s Eve tripleheader ever.

Front Row spoke with ESPN Vice President, College Sports Programming, Rosalyn Durant, for a look back at the debut of the “New Year’s Six” bowls and a look ahead to Monday’s title game and beyond.

The College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T featuring No. 2 Oregon versus No. 4 Ohio State (Monday, Jan. 12, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) will feature a “CFP Megacast” production offering more than a dozen alternate ways to follow the game.

We knew the fans were ready for change and the viewership numbers demonstrated that.
ESPN VP, College Sports Programming,
Rosalyn Durant

What was your reaction when you saw the viewership figures for the two semifinal games?
Excitement. We knew the fans were ready for change and the viewership numbers demonstrated that. But for us, it’s more than the semifinal games – it’s the entire New Year’s Six schedule that the semifinals are a part of, which delivered record audiences. Our work’s not done yet, we have one more to go!

What are some examples of the rewards and challenges of moving from the BCS to the Playoff format?
It has been extremely rewarding to be the media company entrusted with ushering in a new era of college football. As with any new format, it takes time for fans to fully understand the process and nuances. Presenting our coverage in a way that both entertains and educates was a big opportunity for us.

What changes have you seen in the way people follow the sport?
The Playoff has created even more national interest in the sport. Fans are following more teams with playoff potential. You hear talk and debate about a team’s strength of schedule, how they fare in the eye test and head-to-head matchups because they know that the committee is considering all of that, and they want to be in on the discussions.

There was quite a bit of buzz about the teams the Selection Committee ranked in the top four, and the ones that were left out. Did ESPN have any input on what teams were selected?
It is solely the Selection Committee’s responsibility to pick the teams for the playoff. Our responsibility is to produce the best possible coverage for the fans.

It is solely the selection committee’s responsibility to pick the teams for the playoff. Our responsibility is to produce the best possible coverage for the fans.- Rosalyn Durant

How do ESPN’s business relationships with the College Football Playoff and every Football Bowl Subdivision conference affect the way we cover the leagues, teams and bowl matchups?
The business arm of the company does not interfere with the journalism arm. That’s important for our journalistic integrity. We value all of our business relationships and our partners understand that.

We still have the National Championship, but what are you looking forward to for next year’s playoff coverage?
We had a great plan for the first year and are extremely pleased with the results thus far. I look forward to regrouping soon after the championship game to start building for next year.

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