Labor Day weekend was once again filled with college football on television, and HBCUs were a big part of it.
But viewership for Black College Football games was down significantly, according to ratings figures.
Leading the way on Sunday was the much-anticipated Orange Blossom Classic featuring Florida A&M and Jackson State. However, unlike last season, viewership for the game on Sunday was down this year despite being televised on the ESPN main channel.
The Rattlers’ 28-10 win over the Tigers in the late afternoon window drew an average of 438,000 viewers, according to figures from Sports Media Watch. That was down from the 958,000 viewers who watched on ESPN 2 in 2022.
Attendance at Hard Rock Stadium was down, too. Last year’s game drew 40,000 fans. This past Sunday, the official attendance was 24,967.
Televised HBCU game ratings according to Sports Media Watch (@paulsen_smw)
The Black College Football Hall of Fame Classic, which showcased Morehouse and Virginia Union on NFL Network, drew 168,000 viewers, down from the 200,000 who watched last season. The Grambling State-Hampton matchup, also on NFL Network, featured 109,000 viewers.
Fort Valley State and Tuskegee, which played in the Red Tails Classic on ESPNU, had just 67,000 viewers.
The rating dip across ESPN networks could have been impacted by a TV negotiations dispute between Disney and Spectrum, which shut out millions of customers from viewing ABC and ESPN programming.
Sports Media Watch reported that the majority of games televised on ESPN networks saw a sharp decline in viewership over Labor Day weekend.
While ABC topped week one with a 4.7 and 9.17 million for Florida State-LSU Sunday night — up double-digits from last year — the network’s Saturday slate suffered steep declines. Both Boise State-Washington (1.1, 1.97M) and North Carolina-South Carolina declined more-than-two-thirds from last year’s higher-profile windows (Oregon-Georgia: 3.2, 6.20M; Notre Dame-Ohio State: 5.2, 10.53M).
Virginia-Tennessee was also down sharply, its 1.4 and 2.46 million down 35 and 37 percent respectively from Colorado State-Michigan last year (2.2, 3.93M).
ESPN also saw sizable declines, with Arkansas State-Oklahoma down 55% in ratings (to 0.51) and 52% in viewership (to 970K), UMass-Auburn down 67% (to 0.51) and 64% (to 1.03M), New Mexico-Texas A&M down 73% in both measures (to 0.37, 794K) and Coastal Carolina-UCLA down 31% (to 0.47, 862K).
It appears the cable carrier dispute not only impacted HBCU games but all games broadcast by ESPN.