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NCAA champ series: Big ratings, cheaper tickets

The Ohio State Buckeyes play against the Oregon Ducks.
Rob Tringali | Sportschrome | Getty Images
The Ohio State Buckeyes play against the Oregon Ducks.

Ahead of Monday's College Football Playoff National Championship, in which the Oregon Ducks take on the Ohio State Buckeyes in Arlington, Texas, the NCAA's new playoff format means tickets to the title match may be more affordable than in years past, according to secondary ticket marketplace TiqIQ.

Under the format begun this season, four teams are selected for two semi-final games, with the winners going on to play in the Championship.

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The result is that one more game was played that in previous years, and that added game is resulting in a drop in ticket prices with soaring television ratings.

As the No. 2-ranked Ducks take on the 4th-ranked Buckeyes, the average ticket price for the National Championship according to TiqIq is $1,018, down 37 percent since the end of the two semifinal games on Jan. 1.

While the average ticket price is still higher than 2014's Auburn-Florida State championship game, which cost $907, it's significantly lower than in previous years. When Oregon took on Auburn in the 2011 National Championship, for example, the average ticket price was almost five times as much as this year's ticket.

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"The dynamic of the championship game prices may be different going forward because there are now other big tickets (that) fans are likely to spend their money on," said Jesse Lawrence, CEO of secondary ticket marketplace TiqIQ, who added fans shelled out an average of $500 to $600 to see the semifinal games this year.

Football title games: Average ticket price

  1. 2011: Auburn v Oregon: $5,086
  2. 2012: LSU v Alabama: $2,128
  3. 2013: Notre Dame v Alabama: $2,047
  4. 2014: Auburn v Florida State: $907
  5. 2015: Oregon v Ohio State: $1,018

Who's going

Another factor contributing to the lower ticket prices is geographical distance. Monday's game will be played in North Texas, which is at a greater combined distance from the two universities than any of the championship games over the last five years.

"If you were to put the game in Indianapolis, you would see higher ticket prices," Lawrence said.

So who is making the trip to Texas? According to TiqIq, 23 percent of tickets were scooped up by residents of the state of Ohio. Their demand was higher, likely as a result of the state university there being an underdog, and the fact that the school hasn't won a national championship since the 2002 Fiesta Bowl. Residents of Oregon made up 14 percent of ticket buyers. (Texans make up 41 percent of buyers.)

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According to many estimates, the game will probably be the most-watched show in the history of cable television. Trends certainly suggest that would be true, as the current six most-watched cable television shows are all college football games, and last week's two semi-final match-ups are among them.

Most-watched shows in US cable TV history

  1. 28.3 million – 2015 college football semifinal (Ohio State vs. Alabama)
  2. 28.2 million – 2015 college football semifinal (Oregon vs. Florida State)
  3. 27.3 million – 2011 college football championship (Auburn vs. Oregon)
  4. 26.4 million – 2013 college football championship (Alabama vs. Notre Dame)
  5. 25.6 million – 2014 college football championship (Florida State vs. Auburn)
  6. 24.2 million – 2012 college football championship (Alabama vs. Louisiana State)

Monday's game "could be the highest-rated show in cable history," says Brad Adgate, SVP of Research at Horizon Media. "We could see a 30 million number for the first time, with a possible worst-case scenario of 25-28 million" if the game is a blowout, and up to 35 million if it's a close game. Adgate points out the other networks are "no fools," running re-runs Monday night rather than trying to compete with the big game. With 30-second commercial rates that will run over $1 million, that will help ESPN (which is jointly owned by Walt Disney and Hearst) recoup its 12-year, $7.3 billion investment.

"At the end of the day, it's great for fans. The level of excitement is higher than it's ever been before," Lawrence said.

Gobbling up team gear

Fans are also rushing to get their hands on National Championship merchandise. While the Ducks may be favored to win the game, the Buckeyes fans are buying more team apparel, according to Fanatics, the largest online retailer of licensed sports merchandise.

OSU is the No. 1-selling college team this month on Fanatics, up 70 percent compared with this time last year. At No. 2 is Oregon, which is seeing 100 percent growth versus 2014.

The top-selling item on Fanatics is a match-up T-shirt commemorating the first ever playoff Championship.