Monday night Ohio State captured the first College Football Play off Championship, and ESPN claimed a new record for cable TV Audience. The Buckeyes 42-20 win over Oregon pulled an 18.5 rating which should translate into somewhere between 32 and 33 million viewers.
Nielsen should have final numbers to report by the end of the week, but there is no doubt that it will give ESPN the highest-rated and most-watched show in cable history.
The 2006 BCS Championship game will still be the undisputed champion in terms of viewership. Texas' thrilling win over USC attracted 35.6 million viewers. Until last night the Alabama-Texas contest for the 2010 BCS Championship was #2 with 30.8 million fans tuning in.
With last night's game ESPN now holds the top 3 most-watched events in cable history. This years semi-finals, played on January 1st, were the two most-watched shows until Monday night.
The play off format - combined with ESPN's total domination of the 39-game bowl system, as well as the success of Monday Night Football - will give the network another leverage point when they head into future negotiations with distributors over monthly subscription fees.