NBC’s Airing Of The 2022 Bayou Classic Draws 720K Viewers, Proves Once Again That HBCU Football Can Draw Viewership If Given The Oppourtunity


Watch the breakdown of the Bayou Classic, Celebration Bowl, MEAC/SWAC Challenge & Orange Blossom Classic Ratings On HBCU Pulse YouTube here! 

This summer, NBC dropped a press release announcing that they were extending their media partnership with the Bayou Classic. The broadcast network signed a three-year extension with the classic, which has been a staple in NBC’s sports programming since 1991. For over two decades, the age-old rivalry between storied HBCU Football programs Southern University and Grambling State University was shown on main-channel NBC on the Saturday of Thanksgiving Week. The airing of the classic gave exposure to the amazing athletes that played at both institutions as well as showcased the beauty of HBCU Culture to millions of people that wouldn’t normally have access to it. The Bayou Classic itself was one of the only HBCU Games that you could count on to be broadcasted on one of the 4 network channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox). The airing on main channel NBC would continue until 2014. Then, a change occurred.

In 2015, the Bayou Classic was moved from main-channel NBC to cable channel NBC Sports Network. From there, the classic would see a precipitous drop in television viewership. The move itself was puzzling, seeing that the Bayou Classic always brought in a large viewing audience. The drop in viewership can be traced to the lack of accessibility. So, when I saw the announcement that NBC was moving the Bayou Classic back to network television (with a simulcast on Peacock), I was elated!

I knew that the game was worthy of a bigger platform that what it has been given the past six years. I knew that the viewership numbers would skyrocket, proving that HBCU football is still relevant and people will care about it if they’re given the access to the content. I was right. The Bayou Classic drew 720,000 viewers in its 2 PM EST timeslot on NBC. These numbers are exciting and encouraging, given that there were several FBS rivalry games that were on at the same time as the Bayou Classic. I was a bit off on my ratings projection but not by too much! (I used the ratings for the 2021 Celebration Bowl on ABC and the ratings from the last time it was on NBC to predict that it would get between 900K-1 Million viewers).

The impact of these numbers should be felt around the HBCU Sports landscape. This proves that we can draw viewership if we are provided the access. It also is a tale of what happens if we aren’t provided the opportunity to showcase our worth to media companies, advertisers and the athletes we hope to recruit. The argument against attending HBCUs is often that our athletes don’t get exposure. Through effective media partnerships, marketing and accessibility to our content from non-traditional HBCU sports fans, we can build continued exposure that can help us further grow our reach and revenue opportunities.

The Bayou Classic By The Numbers: 2012-2022

I want to take the time to break down the numbers for the Bayou Classic this past decade (excluding 2020, as the game was played in the Spring). My goal is to display that the lack of accessibility to our content is one of our largest problems that we must confront as we look to expand our media rights deals in a streaming world.


These were the last two years that the game was shown on main-channel/basic cable NBC. Although this was in the early 2010’s, there still was an abundance of viewership options that could skew audience number and distract from the game. However, the Bayou Classic performed well:

    • 2012 (NBC): 983,000 viewers
    • 2013 (NBC): 620,000 viewers
    • 2014 (Last Time On NBC): 1 Million Viewers

After 2015, NBC moved the classic to NBC Sports Network. NBC Sports Network, now defunct, was said to be a great landing spot for the network due to the “changing television landscape”. However, the switch from NBC to NBC Sports Network, proved to be disastrous for the viewership numbers of the Bayou Classic as opposed to what the viewership was on main-channel NBC:

  • 2015 (First Year on NBC Sports Network): 150,000 viewers (dropped 85% in viewership vs. 2014 Bayou Classic airing on NBC)
  • 2016: 200,000 viewers (Both Grambling & Southern entered the game undefeated in SWAC Conference Play)
  • 2017: 194,000 viewers
  • 2018:  236,000 viewers (Highest Viewership # since move to NBC Sports Network)
  • 2019:  206,000 viewers
  • 2021: 148,000 viewers (Lowest viewership # since move to NBC Sports Network)

As displayed, 2021’s airing of the Bayou Classic was the lowest output in the decade. The 148,000 viewership number set the table for a triumphant return to main-channel NBC for the Bayou Classic. A bit of a breakdown on Saturday’s 720K viewership number:

  • Ratings Rose 386% vs. 2021 Bayou Classic airing on NBCSN
  • 3rd highest viewing of the decade behind 2014 & 2012 main-channel NBC airing
  • Went against several FBS rivalry games that were airing at the same time:
    • 2nd Half of Michigan vs. Ohio State (Fox, 12 PM): 17,137,000 viewers
    • 2nd Half of Georgia vs. Georgia Tech (ESPN, 12 PM): 2,060,000 viewers
    • 2nd Half of South Carolina vs. Clemson (ABC, 12 PM): 2,324,000 viewers
    • 2nd Half of West Virginia vs. Oklahoma State (ESPN2, 12 PM): 694,000 viewers
    • Auburn vs. Alabama (CBS, 3:30 PM): 6,271,000 viewers

Also, totally unrelated but related at the same time, a man at the Bayou Classic went viral for heating up a chicken wing with a lighter. Social media users, always ones to run with narratives, deduced that he was firing up a blunt. It wasn’t the attention we intended but it was something!


Overall, the viewership numbers that the 2022 Bayou Classic commanded should be celebrated. It gives us a good barometer of what our games will look like with mass distribution. It shows that there is an audience that wants to see HBCU Football. And, hopefully, these numbers show the stakeholders of the SWAC, MEAC, CIAA and SIAC their worth as they continue to negotiate conference media rights deals in the future. There should be no reason why only two HBCU games are now broadcasted on network television (the Celebration Bowl on ABC & now the Bayou Classic on NBC).

Sources for ratings numbers: ShowBuzzDaily, Sports Media Watch, HBCU Sports

Watch the breakdown of the Bayou Classic, Celebration Bowl, MEAC/SWAC Challenge & Orange Blossom Classic Ratings On HBCU Pulse YouTube here! 



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