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With a New TV Contract at Stake, It’s Statement Saturday for UCF and The American

The American needs huge TV numbers for College GameDay and UCF-Cincinnati to help its ongoing TV negotiations with ESPN.

NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

ABC is running a promo for Saturday night’s telecast between the UCF Knights and Cincinnati Bearcats that says, “Statements are made on Saturday nights.”

They’re right.

On the field the #11 Knights host #24 Cincinnati with the American East title on the line.

But off the field could prove to be the bigger statement for the future of UCF and The American.

Let’s start with The American, which has the 8 p.m. time slot on ABC this week. The American is currently trying to get a new TV deal with ESPN where the American can get more money.

The league is in the final two seasons of a seven-year, $126 million television contract with ESPN, which The American negotiated fresh off a spate of realignment departures, did the best it could at the time, and signed on for short money to be more attractive this time around.

The schools in the American are getting around $2 million a year in television revenue according to this Yahoo story, in comparison the Big Ten, which shovels out $50 million annually per school.

Since The American began in 2013, the most-watched AAC game to date was last year’s Black Friday showdown between South Florida and UCF, which garnered 4.7 million viewers on ABC. This game is also the most-watched regular season game in UCF program history.

While the Knights and Bearcats do not figure to match that number, if they can deliver a strong primetime number for ABC, that will help AAC commissioner Mike Aresco’s case in getting the league and its members a better deal moving forward with more exposure and better TV slots.

The same can be said for the Knights, who will be hosting College GameDay and will play a primetime game on ABC for the first time in program history.

ABC on Saturday night has become the premiere slot for College Football. Year in and year out, it is the most-watched college football time slot of the year. With respect to Cincinnati, who helped get this game to the ABC slot with great season they are having, the story and draw in this game is UCF with a 22-game win streak and all of the storylines surrounding the program.

Below are numbers of all ABC primetime games this season.

ABC Saturday Night Football TV Ratings for 2018

Week Matchup Rating Viewers (millions) Most-watched ranking that week
Week Matchup Rating Viewers (millions) Most-watched ranking that week
1 Louisville vs. Alabama 2.7 4.5 5th*
2 Penn St. at Pitt 2.0 3.8 4th
3 Ohio St. at TCU 4.2 7.2 1st
4 Stanford at Oregon 2.5 4.1 2nd**
5 Ohio St. at Penn St. 5.3 9.2 1st***
6 Notre Dame at Virginia Tech 2.7 4.4 3rd
7 Wisconsin at Michigan 3.5 6.0 1st
8 Ohio St. at Purdue 3.8 6.3 1st
9 Texas at Oklahoma St. 2.1 3.4 2nd
10 Oklahoma at Texas Tech 1.9 3.1 7th****
11 Clemson at Boston College 2.6 3.9 4th
Data: Sports Media Watch

Notes:

  • *Labor Day Weekend
  • **Most-watched Pac-12 game of 2018
  • ***2nd most-watched college football game of season
  • ****Head-to-head with Alabama-LSU, which is the most-watched college football game of 2018.

If you are Mike Aresco and UCF, you are hoping the Knights-Bearcats game draws at least 3.0 million viewers and over a 2.0 rating, which is very reasonable considering this game on paper is by far the best game of all the games going on in primetime on Saturday. If the game can get to 4 million viewers, it will be a huge success, and UCF and The American showing that they can put up strong TV numbers in primetime.

Also interesting for the Knights and American is how many viewers tune in to GameDay from UCF.

Below are the numbers for College GameDay this season.

ESPN College GameDay Viewership - 2018

Week Host Location Viewers (millions)
Week Host Location Viewers (millions)
1 Notre Dame 1.867
2 Texas A&M 1.667
3 TCU 1.559
4 Oregon 1.724
5 Penn State 1.577
6 Dallas (Oklahoma vs. Texas) 1.775
7 Michigan 1.669
8 Washington State 1.81
9 Jacksonville (Florida vs. Georgia) 1.767
10 LSU 1.9
Data: Sports Media Watch

So if you’re UCF, you’re hoping to garner at least 1.5 million viewers for GameDay, plus 3.5 million viewers on ABC for the game. That is 5 million viewers that are watching the UCF brand.

So Saturday is a significant day for UCF on the field, but perhaps even bigger off the field for the future of the Knights and the American Athletic Conference’s financial success.