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Big games score large audiences for football carriers

With the season winding toward its conclusion, networks tackled large audiences with their coverage of postseason football games.

Continuing its ratings rebound, the NFL registered gains across each of its four wild-card playoff games, while the College Football Playoff national championship game recorded more than 25 million viewers, despite Clemson's rout of defending champion Alabama.

ESPN Inc.'s megacast of the Tigers' rolling of the Crimson Tide by a 44-16 count, drew 25.28 million watchers across ESPN (US), ESPN2 (US), ESPNU (US) and ESPNews (US), according to Nielsen Holdings PLC data. That was up slightly from the 25.27 million who watched Clemson beat Alabama in the final seconds of the 2017 title, a contest that did not include a simulcast figure from ESPNews.

The total for the contest on Monday night includes some streaming viewership, with full digital numbers slated to become available next week. Out-of-home watching will be added to the viewership tally in about three weeks, according to an ESPN spokesman.

The fourth meeting of Clemson-Alabama in the College Football Playoff — and third in the championship game, the first of which garnered 26.1 million viewers — trailed the 28.4 million audience average for the 2018 affair in which Alabama bested Georgia in overtime, the second-largest audience in cable history, on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU by 11%.

As for the pros, the four wild-card games averaged 28.4 million watchers, according to the NFL, citing Nielsen data, up 12% from 25.3 million for the corresponding telecasts in 2018.

NBC (US)'s coverage of Philadelphia's 16-15 victory over Chicago on Jan. 6 in the late Sunday afternoon window, which was decided when the Bears missed a field goal in the waning seconds, averaged 35.9 million viewers. That stands as TV’s largest audience since the broadcaster's coverage of Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4, 2018, and the network’s top Wild Card telecast ever.

CBS (US) averaged 25.4 million within the 1 p.m. window on Sunday with Los Angeles Chargers knocking out the Ravens in Baltimore.

On Saturday, the simulcast of Indianapolis ousting Houston on ESPN, ABC (US) and ESPN Deportes (US) averaged 22.8 million in the late-afternoon window, while FOX (US)'s prime-time presentation of Dallas grounding Seattle averaged 29.5 million viewers.