By the middle of January each year we begin to hear the same two statements tossed around by defenders of the current college bowl system:
* Attendance at the bowls is up
* TV ratings for the bowls are up
Well, not this year.
Attendance will be touted as being up — mainly because tickets are sold through contractual obligations with the schools — but the actual in-stadium attendance appeared to be quite low at many, many bowl games. Sure the BBVA Compass Bowl Kentucky and Pitt had to buy about 10,000 seats to the game, but Legion Field was littered with empty seats. Just because a school has to buy tickets, it doesn’t mean that fans are buying the tickets from those schools.
Perhaps some of these games should take the old awards show approach of using either cut-outs or stand-ins to fill empty seats.
Meanwhile, television ratings were down a full 9% in 2010 and that includes an 11% drop for the BCS Championship Game. Part of that can be explained away by the fact that last year’s title game featured two of the biggest names in football (Alabama versus Texas) while this year’s game featured two schools (Auburn versus Oregon) with smaller national followings. One game had the luster to draw in casual fans while the other — apparently — did not.
According to The Birmingham News, 23 of 33 bowl games drew fewer viewers than they did a year ago. And 13 of those games dropped by 20% or more. (The TicketCity Bowl appeared on ESPNU and was not included in Neilsen’s ratings breakdown.)
But as much as I hate to say it, another reason for the decline in TV numbers was the switch of all five BCS games from Fox (over the air network) to ESPN (cable).
Here are the 10 most-watched bowls for 2010-11 and all of the SEC’s games… so you can see what kind of exposure your favorite program received:
||BCS Champsionship Game
||Florida State/South Carolina
Each national ratings point equals roughly 1.1 million viewers.
With corporate sponsors and ESPN now driving the bowl games, televison draw for schools will become increasingly important. The sponsors want eyeballs on their in-game commercials and logos. Unfortunately, that’s not good news for Mississippi State and Kentucky whose bowls ranked quite poorly overall. Georgia’s ratings weren’t great this year, either, but most TV/bowl reps would lay the blame for that at UCF’s feet. Georgia is still a national name with a national television draw.