Penn State wrestling turns into must-see TV, gets historic ratings for Big Ten Network

Penn State head wrestling coach Cael Sanderson

Penn State lost a wrestling showdown on Friday night, but Cael Sanderson's Nittany Lions helped the Big Ten Network earn a huge ratings victory.

That night, No. 1 Iowa edged No. 2 Penn State, 19-17, in the most highly-anticipated wrestling match of the season. The dramatic contest was not decided until the final bout of the meet.

The event attracted a sellout crowd of nearly 15,000 fans to Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

The match also became the most-watched wrestling telecast in BTN history as well as the day’s highest-rated college sporting event across all networks.

The Big Ten dual averaged 342,955 viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research, which eclipsed the Ohio State-Penn State meet in 2018 (309,265 viewers) by 11%.

Through 12 broadcasts, BTN’s average audience for wrestling telecasts this season is 116,043 viewers, an increase of 67% from the 2018-19 season.

The Hawkeyes-Nittany Lions broadcast capped a run of three consecutive nights in which BTN featured the highest-rated college sporting event across all television networks.

Wednesday night, the Indiana-Penn State men’s basketball game averaged 325,205 viewers and earned the No. 1 distinction. Thursday, the Iowa-Maryland men’s basketball game averaged 455,490 viewers en route to the top spot.

Reach Steve Heiser at