It’s funny to see a long article about how Georgia’s administrators are worried about student turnout at football games that doesn’t contain a single mention of this year’s home schedule.
Tag Archives: Attendance
I’m not going to delve into the reasons why we’re so passionate about college football, but it’s clear that we are. I blog about it; you read and comment about it. We fill stadiums up, not just during the regular season, but for meaningless spring games as well. And contrary to any romantic notions we may hold, you can put a dollar sign on that passion.
As incredible as this may sound given athletics departments’ addiction to TV money, college sports has actually been undervalued. That’s changing due to viewer interest and more competition among media companies. This week, Broadcasting & Cable Magazine reported that CBS’ ad prices for the SEC are up 10 percent from last year.
“The American public votes with their clickers and they vote by buying products that advertisers sell,” said Neal Pilson, a media consultant and former president of CBS Sports. “The result is college football and college basketball are hot properties for a lot of companies.”
We’re the ones who motivate the networks and the conferences to haggle over the fees.
I’ve said before, college football isn’t a monolithic institution, like pro sports leagues are. It’s more a loose confederation of haves and have-nots. That’s been reflected in the TV deals the mid-majors have, the battle over postseason revenues and, of course, the musical chairs game of conference realignment.
What we may be seeing now, with the FSU story, is the start of a serious battle of the haves. And as fans, what we should be concerned about is whether the compromises made in the chase for the dollar turn what we love into something that’s not as attractive. The suits pay lip service to us and our passion, but it’s clear that commitment doesn’t mean what it used to mean.
Now if you’re part of a fan base attached to a school which is attempting to make a perceived step up with a change, that’s all well and good. You can tell yourselves that your institution is undervalued in its current setting…
Florida State’s athletic program has experienced unprecedented success lately finishing in the top 10 of the Directors’ Cup for the last two years. Even the major revenue generating sports – football, men’s basketball and baseball – have done well.
While falling just short of a BCS bowl appearance, the football team has won nine-plus games the last two years, won the state championship and played in two relatively high profile bowl games that both sold out. And within this same two-year span, baseball hosted two NCAA Super Regionals and has been to one College World Series. And Leonard Hamilton’s basketball team followed a Sweet 16 appearance in 2011 with an ACC Championship in 2012.
… while gliding by the unhappy reality that you’re the reason your school is shopping itself to the highest bidder.
… Sagging football attendance is the main reason for Florida State’s budget shortfall. For a program accustomed to competing for national titles, going 26-14 over the past three seasons apparently isn’t cutting it for many fans.
Donations are way off, too. Four years ago, Seminole Boosters reported total revenue of $42.8-million, according to its tax records. In its most recently reported year, it brought in $32.7-million.
And those aren’t the athletic department’s only financial problems. In February, Moody’s Investor Services downgraded the revenue-bond rating of FSU Financial Assistance, a unit of Seminole Boosters, after it had to come up with extra money to prop up the athletics program.
The irony here is that FSU, should it make the move, comes off as glorified cupcake. It gets more money with a switch to the Big 12, but it will face tougher opposition. Going 26-14 against the likes of Wake Forest and Clemson (two schools it’s struggled with) translates into what against Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State, etc.? If the wins don’t flow more readily in the new home, when does a drop in fan enthusiasm, which will pick up with the shiny new conference change, rear its ugly head again?
I don’t mean to pick just on FSU here. It’s very much the same story as we watch the SEC muddle through its scheduling issues resulting from expansion to 14 schools this season. And it’s driving the postseason reset, too.
The thing I keep asking myself as I watch the money chasing not just continue unabated, but actually accelerate, what makes all these folks smart enough to know when to stop? Assuming that there’s a need to stop, as our need for sports is, if not insatiable, pretty damned close to that.
Tell me this doesn’t resonate with you to some extent.
I find this funny, because I think we’re in the middle of a college football bubble.
Look at the past couple of years. We’ve seen a huge upheaval in conference alignments, as folks jettison history in a desire to get the cash a conference football championship brings. And it’s paid off in the short term, as networks have thrown down large chunks of change in advance of a possible NFL lockout. But more schools and bowls are losing money on the postseason. Last fall saw investigation of agent contact at Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and of course, North Carolina, and since then Ohio State’s football program has completely melted down and Oregon is fending off charges of paying for recruits. I’m guessing this aspect is going to get much worse before it gets better. Bowls are throwing around bribe money, and Congress is showing signs of investigating. And finally looming on the horizon is the increased findings on concussions, which is beginning to draw some heat in the NFL, and is just one coach’s bad decision away from blowing up in the face of a college football program.
There’s a lot of dumb money flowing into college football right now, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the popularity slips and it goes rushing out, taking a few programs with it…
Now that was written about a year ago, and it doesn’t look like we’ve hit any sort of peak yet. But something he posted a couple of months later sure looks prescient.
The other sure sign of a bubble? In the midst of everyone clamoring to throw money at the tradition and pageantry of college football, the people providing it start saying how meaningless said tradition is. Bob Stoops announces that the 105-game Red River Rivalry can be dropped, if need be. It’s not important. The 86-game Nebraska-OU rivalry has already gone the the way of the dodo after all, and Texas is saying they’ll drop A&M from their schedule. Because I’m sure a thrilling yearly battle with Navy will bring just as many eyeballs. History no longer applies, and the quality of the product we’re selling isn’t important. Both things that are said right before the market for whatever you’re hyping crashes to earth.
Anyway, everything looks one step closer to the consolidation into 16-team conferences, after which they really stop being conferences and just become television cartels. I’m sure fans of teams divorced from everything they’ve known will continue to love their new travels to far-off venues for mediocre games. After all, there will be a new uniform combination debuted! That’s what everyone’s watching for, right?
Sigh. I’m not sure what’s more depressing, to be played for suckers by the suits, or to have the suits proven right by that. It remains to be seen whether that happens, but my other sad reflection here is what happens if the suits overshoot the mark and do damage our affection for the sport. Getting the genie back in the bottle is always a tough task. It’s even tougher when it’s the people who screwed things up who are expected to be the ones to fix the mess they created in the first place. Color me deeply pessimistic.
A couple of truly shake your head in wonder dumb, dumb articles:
– The conference commissioners, panicked by falling postseason ratings and attendance numbers, are on track to reform the BCS such that the money train will pick up speed. Sure, the inevitable turf wars have ensued, but these guys know they have certain common goals. Which makes this Rachel Bachman article in the WSJ such a special disconnect from reality. She argues that the Big Ten and Pac-12 should pull out of the BCS to… I don’t want to diminish the impact with a paraphrase here: “… serve the greater glory of the best thing about college football: the Rose Bowl.” Even better, she says that would force the networks to face a tough decision: “Do they want to plunge into a playoff or bask in the glow of tradition?” I can’t make that shit up if I tried.
– But as dumb as that is, I think I’d have to say this Kevin Scarbinsky piece is even farther out. At least you can say Bachman’s writing out of some sense of romance about what is, still, a tradition, albeit one that’s compromised itself in the BCS era. Scarbinsky, though, honestly wants to convince the world that Jim Delany’s reference to “that team” in the context of the Big Ten commissioner’s push to form a D-1 playoff in his own image has awakened a sleeping giant in Tuscaloosa: “The Crimson Tide has been handed a new motivational slogan.” Ooh. What’s Nick Saban been doing lately, if he hasn’t begun preparing his team for the season opener? I was going to spend a lot more effort strafing this piece of junk, but I’m outsourcing it to Brian Cook instead.
GODDAMMIT JIM DELANY NOW ALABAMA IS GOING TO SHOW UP IN DALLAS AND TRY TO WIN. OUR WHOLE PLAN WAS THIS: DO NOT MAKE ALABAMA FEEL LIKE THEY SHOULD WIN THIS FOOTBALL GAME. OUR WHOLE PLAN IS NOW: AAAAAAAAIIIIEEEEEE. I SHOULD SHAKE YOU, SCREAMING “GET AHOLD OF YOURSELF” AND YES I KNOW THAT’S IRONIC.
You’re about to make it through another working week, so grab a plate and settle in.
- I’m thinking it may soon be time to nominate “SEC – Year of the quarterback” as this year’s big meme.
- Speaking of memes, Derek Dooley grabs top honors on Mike Huguenin’s hot seat list.
- So it’s probably not going to sit too well with the fan base when SOD wishes for a vacation from recruiting to spend more time with the family.
- This isn’t a bad idea, as far as new bowl games go.
- Here’s a round-up of spring game attendance figures. Georgia looks pretty good there.
- Nebraska’s president isn’t giving up on that true plus-one game after the bowls, which I think is still a legitimate outcome, simply as a default. That makes Kevin Scarbinsky blow a gasket.
- Here’s Year2′s list of shoulds and shouldn’ts in the new world of playoff field selection. Based on track record, I’d be surprised if the coaches are willing to walk away from their place in the scheme of things. Which means… this!
Try it, you’ll like it.
- Sporting News ranks the ACC coaches and Paul Johnson comes in at number two. I don’t know if that more a reflection on Johnson or the conference. (Personally speaking, I’d give Jim Grobe a lifetime achievement award for Wake Forest winning the ACC. Is there another coach on the list who could have pulled that off?)
- Will Muschamp doesn’t think much of Tennessee’s lack of academic prowess.
- This is not new, but since they brought mat drills back this offseason, maybe it’s worth another look.
- Surprise, surprise: “College football players suffer knee injuries about 40 percent more often when playing on an artificial turf versus grass, according to a U.S. study.”
- Jerry Hinnen’s look at the SEC East, post-spring practice is worth a read. (I’ve thought the same thing he mentions about South Carolina’s pass defense.)
- This is pretty cool.
- I’m sure Tommy Tuberville is ecstatic that Kevin Scarbinsky’s let him off the hook for Auburn football.
- Nick Saban is right about this, even if it is a little self-serving. (Hell, it’s not as if what Delany and Scott want isn’t, aiight?)
Okay, Jim Delany, Mike Slive and the rest of that bunch know they’ve screwed up and they’re really, really sorry about that.
… At the 2010 Outback Bowl, Auburn became the first team in 62 years to play on New Year’s Day with a losing conference record. Five more teams have done that since then: Northwestern, Texas Tech, Michigan, Florida and Ohio State.
In the past five years, 10 of the 27 New Year’s Day bowls featured a team without a winning conference record. That occurred in just six of the 221 New Year’s Day bowls from 1968 to 2007.
Fans have been treated like suckers. The powers-that-be figured by putting something on New Year’s Day — even if it was undeserving teams — you’d keep filling seats, watching on TV and building up ratings for BCS bowls in the coming days.
For a while it worked. Then enough of you started paying attention.
BCS bowl attendance last year was down 8 percent compared to 2005, the last season before the addition of a fifth BCS game, the BCS Championship Game. Television viewership for all 2011-12 bowl games dropped 15 percent last year from 2010-11.
The thing is, it’s not like that happened in a vacuum. It wasn’t an accident. It’s what TV wanted. And the conference commissioners were more than happy to comply with the request, as long as the checks rolled in. Now the panic has set in as the numbers decline. But who’s to say that the guys who drove the bus into the ditch in the first place are qualified to pilot the tow truck to pull the bowl season out of the ditch? Does anybody really believe they’d place the sanctity of New Year’s Day above a few more dollars?
I can see why sliding the bowl season past January 1st has had a negative impact on fan attendance. It’s one thing to ask us to spend a long holiday weekend in New Orleans. It’s another to schedule a bowl game on the third or fourth of the month and expect fans to spend that much time away from their jobs and lives.
But it’s hard to see what difference that makes with regard to TV viewership.
Here’s what I expect to see in the next postseason deal – the conferences take back the tradition of the first day of the year in one form or fashion. Ratings improve, because of the novelty of whatever form the BCS replacement takes. And over time, if the numbers hold up, the calendar starts sliding again, because product is more important than anything to a network and TV revenue is more important than anything to a conference commissioner. In other words, lather, rinse, repeat.
While we’re all summoning up a few choice words to say as the last rites are being performed over the prostrate body of the BCS (death by greed), at the risk of sounding too much like Bill Hancock, I think it’s worth remembering that despite its flawed moments, of which it’s certainly had its share, the BCS did good in three significant ways.
- It got us a 1 vs. 2 matchup on a consistent basis.“… it accomplished its goal of pairing college football’s consensus No. 1 and No. 2 teams in a title game 11 times in 14 seasons. That kind of efficiency would have been a pipe dream in the old system of bowls and polls, wherein only nine times in 35 seasons between 1963 and 1997 did the Associated Press’ top two teams meet in a bowl game.” That was its reason for coming into being and given the competing interests involved (as we’re seeing now), that was no small task.
- It added to college football’s success story over the past two decades. Ratings are up. Attendance is up. TV contracts have grown immensely in value. I think you’d have to say that the BCS was more than an innocent bystander as that occurred.
- It helped spread the wealth to the mid-majors. Say what you will, but the money the mid-majors have gotten out of the BCS in the last decade, pittance though it may be in the eyes of many, is still a helluva lot more than they used to get. (The irony that we may be watching the start of a process that may end in the separation of D-1′s have and have-nots such that many of the smaller schools would wind up back the same boat they used to float in pre-BCS should not be lost on anyone.)
For the moment, I still stand by my Churchillian pronouncement, even while I recognize it may be on its last legs. What say you?
The antidote to Bill Hancock’s BCS bullshit…
… After conference commissioners met for almost 10 hours, a giddy Hancock emerged from a conference room and — for once — said something we can celebrate instead of mock.
“I can take status quo off the table,” Hancock said.
But this is the BCS. So, naturally, Hancock qualified his statement a few minutes later.
“The BCS as we know it — the exact same policies will not continue,” Hancock said. “That does not mean that there is definitely going to be a four-team event or a plus-one.”
… is this:
“Either way, everybody’s gonna be bent out of shape,” Richt said, laughing. “The way it is now, people will be bent out of shape if it’s just four.”
Ain’t that the troof.
I don’t get the celebratory reaction to Hancock’s statement. Of course the status quo is going to get reworked. The fix was in on that as soon as the conference commissioners took a close look at the attendance and viewership numbers from this past bowl season.
The problem now, as it has been all along, is achieving a consensus on what the replacement for the status quo will be. And as Staples’ article indicates, as problems go, it’s a big ‘un.
Here’s just one example of what they’ve got to overcome.
… Scott would like to see a system that weighs strength of schedule more heavily. “If we go to a four-team playoff, then we’re essentially going to put more stock in the playoff,” Scott said. “The plan, from my perspective, would be a more credible, objective, fair system that balances strength of schedule. We all don’t play over the same course. Every conference has got different caliber. Some conferences play nine conference games. Some play eight. Some play stronger out-of-conference competition. Some tend to not. They just want to get home games.”
Take that, Mike Slive. (My guess is he won’t.)
I don’t want to say a lot of the debate is insurmountable. But what they’ve got to overcome in the next few weeks is certainly formidable. While I don’t believe they’ll throw up their hands and stick with what they’ve done – that’s not where the money is, after all – it would surprise me less and less if they don’t fall back on a true plus-one, a title game after all the bowls are played in which the top two teams face off, as their default. The fans get a new shiny toy, the schools get another game from which to generate revenue and the commissioners get to put off all the hard decisions that can’t reach agreement on for another day. Which will no doubt come.
Meanwhile, nobody will listen to Mark Richt.
“Just tell me what the rules are. Tell me what the deal is and we’ll play by it,” he said. “I don’t know what is the right answer. But I would not want to change college football much. College football is a great sport. It’s an unbelievable regular season. Probably more exciting than any regular season in any sport. So we want to be careful to make sure we know what we’re looking for.”
UPDATE: A sixteen-team playoff is off the table. For now. Woo hoo!
Ivan Maisel thinks one tell that change is coming to the BCS is that the usual dogs aren’t barking about the current discussion, but it’s the why they’ve stopped that’s more pertinent.
… The desire of a prime-time window for as many BCS bowls as possible has pushed the championship game past the first weekend of NFL playoffs. While it’s difficult to quantify the effect, Thompson and others are firm in their belief that once the NFL takes the stage, the buildup of a four-month season toward a championship event is irreparably interrupted.
Those prime-time windows also have fallen in midweek, which makes it difficult for fans to attend without blowing up their work schedules. Attendance has fallen — neither the Sugar Bowl nor the Orange Bowl has topped 70,000 in the last two years. Both had done so every year since 2002. The secondary ticket market — StubHub, Craigslist, etc. — has left schools stuck with the tickets they are obligated to purchase.
I must have missed the “settling it on the field” concern.
They took the TV checks and let things fall where they may. Now that things haven’t worked out as well as they like, it’s time to make changes. The question is, what happens when those changes don’t take them to a better place?
Skipping the crap about the Fiesta Bowl’s sleaziness and the faux concern over the players’ “bowl experience” (not that there isn’t one, just that I doubt most of the people running the bowls give a rat’s ass about it), there is one issue they bring up as the Great BCS Rejiggering moves along that should factor into the equation:
Playing semifinal games at existing bowl sites would likely resuscitate games like the Orange Bowl, which has seen drastic drops in attendance and TV ratings in recent years. However, if the commissioners opt to play the semifinals at on-campus or new neutral sites (like, say, Indianapolis), the bowl business would likely feel the trickle down.
“That means two more teams have been taken outside the potential pool for our bowls,” said Gary Cavalli, executive director of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. “That affects everybody. The entire bowl system takes a minor hit.”
The scenario that makes the BCS bowls particularly nervous is the possibility of not only precluding the bowls from hosting semifinals, but bidding out the championship game to any U.S. city. “The championship game would not be branded as a bowl game even if a bowl organization serves as host,” reads the description in the aforementioned BCS document.
Should that happen, “It changes our financial model considerably,” said Shelton. Since the BCS’ 1998 inception, the Fiesta Bowl has counted on the revenue from its turn hosting the championship game every four years to help fund team payouts for both its regular game and the Insight Bowl, which is run by the same organization. (That game will have a new name this year after Insight let its contract expire.)
“Would we still host the Fiesta Bowl? Of course we would,” said Shelton. “But the intake and the outflow would be different. … [The Insight Bowl] would have to run with a much lower payout and a much different set of teams.”
Now I happen to think that playing the semis at on-campus sites is better for the fans and provides some incentive for a program to win its games and play a respectable schedule and I also suspect that Jerry Jones has already been whispering in somebody’s ear that the schools and conferences don’t have to worry about a drop in bowl revenue because he’s good for it and then some, but until you see those final numbers, it’s hard to say.
I do think the bowls have something to worry about, though. Lip service doesn’t pay the bills.