The first two Bowl Championship Series games on ESPN drew big numbers for cable but experienced a significant decline in viewership when compared to airing the games on broadcast networks, according to overnight Nielsen ratings.
Saturday's Rose Bowl featuring Wisconsin and Texas Christian generated an 11.7 rating, the highest for any program on cable except the NFL since 2001.
Here's the bad news: Viewership was down 15% from the 2010 game featuring Ohio State and Oregon (13.8) when ABC had the telecast. Previous ABC telecasts also smashed ESPN's number. The 2009 game featuring Penn State and USC drew a 12.6 and the 2008 game featuring Illinois and USC drew a 12.1. Overall, ESPN's number represents the lowest overnight rating for a Rose Bowl since the 2003 Oklahoma-Washington State matchup (11.4) on ABC.
The Fiesta Bowl featuring Connecticut and Oklahoma drew a 6.7 on ESPN, down 22% from last year when Fox telecast the Boise State-Texas Christian game (8.6) and 42% from the 2009 game featuring Ohio State and Texas (11.6).
Saturday's Fiesta was the second-lowest overnight ever for a BCS game. Only Fox's broadcast of the 2009 Orange Bowl featuring Cincinnati and Virginia Tech did worse (6.1).
This is the first year ESPN had rights to all the BCS games. Previously, Fox had rights to four of the games. ESPN outbid Fox by $100 million for the current deal that runs through 2014. After securing the rights, ESPN shifted the Rose Bowl from its spot on ABC.