(Reuters) - The inaugural College Football Playoff drew more than 28 million television viewers to both semifinal games, sports network ESPN said on Friday, touting that number as the two largest cable television audiences ever.

An average audience of 28.3 million watched Ohio State upset top-seed Alabama 42-35 in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on New Year's day, according to Nielsen.

Oregon's 59-20 victory over defending champion Florida State earlier on Thursday in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, was watched by an average of 28.2 million viewers.

Second-ranked Oregon will meet No. 4 Ohio State on Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas, for the national championship.

The four-team playoff has replaced the poll system that would determine which college teams would face each other for the championship.

Last year's Rose Bowl game drew 18.6 million and the Sugar Bowl drew 11.3 million.

The highly profitable ESPN, a major revenue generator for owner Walt Disney Co, agreed in 2012 to pay more than $7 billion to broadcast college bowl games and the playoffs. The deal took effect in 2014 and runs for 12 years.

Television networks reap some of their top advertising rates from sporting events because most sports viewers prefer to watch games live instead of recording them. Advertisers prefer viewers to watch programming live because they cannot fast-forward past commercials, as they can with programs they have recorded.

(Reporting by Eric Kelsey; Editing by David Gregorio)