AP Top 25 College Football
The Tennessee football team entered the Top 25 this week for the first time since 2008, but Knoxville's college football television fans have maintained a spot in the top 10 since at least 2002 when the city became a metered market.
Knoxville came in at No. 10 among the 56 metered markets in the nation for ESPN college football games last season.
As impressive as that might seem, Knoxville had ranked in the top five every other year dating back to 2002 — except for 2005 — when it ranked sixth.
Knoxville has ranked as high as No. 2 on five occasions, most recently in 2009, when Lane Kiffin was the Vols coach.
But if Knoxville's television market share for Tennessee's ESPNU opener against N.C. State in the Chik-Fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome on Aug. 31 serves as an indicator, Knoxville figures to be headed back up in the ESPN college football television market rankings.
The Vols' 35-21 win averaged 1,491,000 viewers (based on a 1.3 average and 945,000 households) and ranks as ESPNU's most-viewed college football game ever.
"One of the most impressive qualities which
makes the University of Tennessee such a special place is the loyalty of our fan base,'' UT vice chancellor/director of athletics Dave Hart said. "We are blessed to have one of the most passionate fan bases in both college football and all of sports, and their support plays a major role in our pursuit of excellence.''
Knoxville's ESPN ranking is sure to get a boost from Saturday's game between the No. 23 Vols (2-0) and No. 18 Florida (2-0), as Tennessee will be making its first appearance on ESPN since the 2010 season.
Last season marked the first time since 2005 that Tennessee did not play a football game on ESPN (though last season it appeared on ESPN2 five times and ESPNU once).
Stephanie DiVito, director, audience research at ESPN, said the East Tennessee market has been a strong one for the cable giant.
"Knoxville is a college football market; they move up or down depending on how well Tennessee is playing,'' she said. "Knoxville is above average for college football and college basketball. In 2011, it ranked 10th in college basketball with a 1.8 rating — the average rating (nationally) was 0.9, so that's double.''
DiVito said Knoxville also ranked above average for NASCAR, coming in 14th nationally.
The 56 metered markets represent approximately 70 percent of the nation's population.
When Knoxville first became a metered market in 2002, ESPN covered 56 college football games. That number has increased every year since, with ESPN doing 78 games last season.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee athletics. Follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32