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Report: College Football Among America's Most-Popular Sports
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15 May 2018 06:05 PM EST

-by Daniel Mogollon, Staff Writer; Image: Alabama plays Georgia in National Championship Game. (Image Source: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, the National Football Foundation (NFF) & College Hall of Fame highlighted college football’s popularity and the sport’s growth.

In a Gallup Poll, 56 percent of U.S. adults called themselves college football fans, which is a two percent increase from 2011 and more than professional baseball, basketball, hockey, and soccer. Only the NFL has more core fans.

“College football will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2019, and our sport has certainly come a long way from several hundred spectators lining a wooden fence to watch the first game in 1869,” said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell. “We saw a big shift this year in the metrics and how things are measured with the adaptation of total live audience numbers by several media outlets. The need for the switch highlights that fans truly are reveling in the vision of college football anytime, anywhere and on any screen.

“The networks, as well as the colleges, conferences and bowls, all deserve high praise as innovators who continue to break new ground within an ever-changing high-tech landscape. There is no doubt that college football fans everywhere are the big winners with options galore, thanks to the creativity and commitment of the leaders of our sport.”

The success is reflected in both television ratings and attendance numbers.

The College Football Playoff National Championship Game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and Georgia Bulldogs brought in 29,932,000 viewers, the second-biggest audience in the history of cable television trailing only the inaugural CFP Championship Game between Ohio State and Oregon in 2015.

College football has the four-biggest viewerships in cable TV history and seven of the top 10.

The seven CFP games, which includes the New Year’s Six as well as the National Championship averaged a total of greater than 17 million, which is the best mark in the four seasons we’ve had the playoffs. It was a 10 percent increase from the previous season.

In all, the 39 bowl games averaged 5,308,000 viewers per game, while the 355 college football telecasts (ABC, beIN Sports, CBS, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, FOX, FS1, FS2, NBC and NBCSN but not two bowl games on CBSSN) averaged 1,942,000 viewers per game with 200 million unique fans in total.

That covers the fans watching at home.

The 666 NCAA football programs covering FBS, FCS, DII and DIII drew a combined attendance of 47,622,196 fans for the entire 2017 season per the NCAA’s report. While it’s a 3.3 percent drop from 2016, it’s a whopping 29.2 percent increase from 20 years ago in 1997.

The bowl games also did well. In 40 FBS bowl games (not counting the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl/FCS), 1.620,253 fans attended with over 57,000 in attendance in each of the top 10 bowls.

Daniel Mogollon is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America. He is also a voter for the Thorpe and the Rotary Lombardi Award, as well as the Latino Sports MVP Awards. You can reach him via email:

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