Overall college football TV ratings declined in 2010.
CBS led all nets broadcasting college football this season with a 4.2 rating and 6.9 million viewers for its package of SEC games. The net this season topped ABC’s college football broadcasts for only the second time since ’90. However, CBS’ figures are down 4.5% from the net’s record-setting numbers last season, when CBS earned its best ratings for SEC games since the net began re-airing college football in ’96. ABC averaged a 3.5 rating for its 30 college football telecasts this season, which was down just over 10% from last year. The net saw ratings decline for both its Saturday 3:30pm ET games (-0.9%) and for its Saturday primetime games (-9.5%). NBC averaged a 2.1 rating and 3.1 million viewers for its eight Notre Dame football telecasts this season, down 12.5% and 15.0%, respectively, from last year.
Those are the kind of results you get when it’s an off year for traditional powers like Florida, Texas and Southern Cal. The breakdown by network is telling.
’10 NCAA FOOTBALL RATINGS, VIEWERSHIP nnnNET TELECASTS U.S.
% +/- VIEWERS
% +/- ’09
CBS* 15 4.2 -4.5% 6,944 -0.7% 15 ABC 30 3.5 -10.3% 5,578 -8.6% 31 NBC 8 2.1 -12.5% 3,130 -15.0% 8 ESPN 75 1.9 0.0% 2,966 3.2% 71 ESPN2 56 0.9 -10.0% 1,416 -5.1% 54 Versus 19 0.3 50.0% 411 27.6% 25 NOTES: * = SEC Package only. Excludes Army-Navy and Notre Dame-Navy telecasts.
The graphics are hard to read, but the numbers in the fourth (viewers) and fifth (% chg from ’09) columns are the important ones. That’s where you can see where our eyeballs are trained.
And here’s how ESPN’s numbers break down further.
BREAKDOWN OF MOST-VIEWED ESPN COLLEGE FOOTBALL WINDOWS WINDOW TELECASTS RAT. % +/- VIEWERS (000) % +/- ’09 TELECASTS Saturday primetime 14 2.5 4.2% 4,124 7.2% 15 Saturday 12:00pm ET 14 1.9 0.0% 2,779 1.4% 14 Thursday primetime 15 1.8 -21.7% 2,841 -19.6% 15 Saturday 3:30pm ET 12 1.3 30.0% 1,908 26.2% 12
Our strong preference is to watch the teams from the big conferences. True, that Boise State-Virginia Tech game got us looking, but BSU and its conference didn’t draw anything like that over the rest of the season. None of the mid-majors did.
I mention all of this as a preference to Mark Cuban’s proposal to finance a college football playoff. Here’s his crude outline of how he sees his plan unfolding.
… Cuban said he envisions either a 12- or 16-team playoff field with the higher seeds getting homefield advantage. The homefield advantage, Cuban said, would ensure the college football regular-season games would not lose any importance.
The bowl games could still exist under Cuban’s plan, but he said he would make it more profitable for programs to make the playoffs than a bowl.
“Put $500 million in the bank and go to all the schools and pay them money as an option,” Cuban said. “Say, ‘Look, I’m going to give you X amount every five years. In exchange, you say if you’re picked for the playoff system, you’ll go.’ “
I’m tempted to brush this off with an “it’s so easy“, especially since it’s coming from the owner of a team which participates in a playoff format that’s about as far from college football’s postseason as you can get. (The NBA is the poster child for what a meaningless regular season is all about.) But Cuban by most accounts is a fairly shrewd man, so maybe it’s worth taking a closer look at what he’s throwing out.
And that’s the intriguing part of this. For him, it’s a profit-oriented business move.
… Cuban, who is reading the book “Death to the BCS,” said he thinks it would take about three or four years of planning before enacting the playoff system. He believes it’s a better business opportunity than owning a baseball team, and he admits he’s intrigued by the idea of revolutionizing a major sport.
“It’s an inefficient business where there’s obviously a better way of doing it,” Cuban said. “The only thing that’s kept them from doing it is a lack of capital, which I can deal with.
“The one thing every college football fan wants you can probably create for less than it takes to buy a baseball team.”
I don’t think he’s saying that right, whether from ignorance or something else. We don’t have a playoff due to lack of overall capital; rather, we don’t have one because of how capital is controlled and distributed. So when Cuban assures us that he can deal with that, I’m not sure he knows what that entails. The Big Six are likely to object to an even distribution of Cuban’s largesse with the mid-majors (especially if they’re worried about the impact of an extended playoff on the regular season cash flow). No doubt the mid-majors will see things in a different light. And that doesn’t even get into the issue of what vehicle will be used to distribute the money.
But here’s the thing: taking Cuban at his word, to approach this as a profit-oriented venture means siding with the big conferences, because that’s where the viewership is right now. (His stated concern for preserving the importance of the regular season should be a tip about where his sympathies lie in that regard.) Going with the numbers from the charts above, Cuban isn’t going to pay a premium for Versus’ audience. He would pay one for CBS’, though.
Which leads me to wonder if Dan Shanoff hasn’t stumbled on to something in this post. While I think that his concept of an 8-team, 7-game, 3-week SEC-only playoff is stillborn, the idea of Cuban pitching a deal exclusively to the Big Six, whether by picking them off conference by conference or selling it to them as a whole, and offering a big new pot of money in return for a playoff… well, I can see the Slives and the Delanys of the college football world pondering that offer.