North Dakota State’s 17-13 victory over James Madison in the Football Championship Subdivision game Saturday, Jan. 6 drew an average of 1.515 million viewers between 11 a.m. and 2:18 p.m. Central, when the game ended on ESPN2. That’s the highest television ratings a Bison national championship game has drawn in their six appearances in Frisco, Texas.
The numbers, provided by the Twitter account @SportsTVRatings and the Web site showbuzzdaily.com, showed the Bison game was one of Saturday’s higher-rated live events, although it was far behind that day’s NFL playoff games. The NFC wildcard game on NBC between Atlanta and the Los Angeles Rams drew an average of 22.815 million viewers and the AFC wildcard game between Tennessee and Kansas City averaged 15.96 million viewers on ABC.
But the only other event that outdrew the Bison-Dukes game was the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on NBC, which drew an average of 1.932 million viewers. The FCS game outdrew two college basketball games on ESPN on Saturday: North Carolina/Virginia (1.297 million viewers) and Duke/North Carolina State (1.22 million).
The NDSU-JMU game drew fewer viewers than the JMU-Youngstown State title matchup a year ago, which drew 1.563 million average viewers. But this was the Bison’s highest-rated title game, beating the January 2016 championship game against Jacksonville State, which averaged 1.35 million viewers.
NDSU’s most-watched TV game was an FCS quarterfinal matchup against South Dakota State in December 2016 that had an average of 1.984 million people watching.
Other nationally televised Bison games this season included 849,000 viewers for their quarterfinal victory over Wofford on Dec. 9, 2017, and 604,000 for a semifinal victory Dec. 15, 2017, over Sam Houston State.
Getting a game televised by ESPN is crucial to a larger audience. More people get ESPN than ESPN2 on basic cable.
Here are some TV viewership numbers for Bison games over the years:
- NDSU vs. South Dakota State in FCS quarterfinals on ESPN in Dec. 2016 drew an average of 1.984 million viewers, according to showbuzzdaily.com. It is the most-viewed television Bison football game.
- NDSU vs. Northern Iowa in FCS quarterfinals on ESPN in Dec. 2015 drew an average of 1.644 million viewers, according to Sports TV Ratings.
- NDSU vs. James Madison in FCS title game in Jan. 2018 drew average of 1.515 million viewers.
- NDSU vs. Jacksonville State in FCS title game in Jan. 2016, 1.35 million.
- NDSU vs. Illinois State in FCS title game in Jan. 2015, 1.44 million viewers.
- NDSU vs. Towson in FCS title game in Jan. 2014, 1.2 million.
- NDSU vs. Sam Houston in Jan. 2013, 1.1 million.
- NDSU vs. Montana in FCS Kickoff game in Aug. 2015 on ESPN, 981,000 viewers.
- NDSU vs. Wofford in FCS quarterfinals in Dec. 2017 on ESPN2, 849,000 viewers.
- NDSU vs. Charleston Southern in FCS Kickoff game in Aug. 2016 on ESPN, 797,000 viewers.
- NDSU vs. Sam Houston State in FCS semifinals in Dec. 2017 on ESPN2, 604,000 viewers.
- NDSU vs. Kansas State in Aug. 2013 on Fox Sports 1, 585,000 viewers.
Here’s a video of the Bison and their fans celebrating at Toyota Stadium after the game: