Michael Elkon’s got an interesting post up today about the sagging TV ratings for the Rose, Cotton and Sugar Bowls this season. His basic point is that we shouldn’t expect Fox to put up with that for very long with the bucks it’s laying out for the BCS broadcast rights:
…Thus, if I’m a Fox executive, I’ll be lobbying hard next year for competitive match-ups between teams of roughly equal ability so the games won’t bleed viewership in the third and fourth quarters…
Well, last year’s Sugar Bowl was as big a rout as this year’s was. The difference? Notre Dame’s national following dwarfs Hawaii’s. Michael thinks that Tuesday’s Capital One Bowl drew better than the Sugar Bowl because of more compelling story lines (Carr’s retirement and Tebow’s Heisman), but isn’t it just as likely due to more of the same – teams with bigger national followings?
Go back to last year. Is there any doubt that the Fiesta Bowl was last season’s most compelling BCS game and that it wasn’t even close to being the biggest draw on TV?
I doubt Fox cares nearly as much about teams with roughly equal abilities being matched up as it does about making sure it’s got teams in the mix whose fan base will watch no matter what. All of which isn’t good news from schools not in BCS conferences, or who aren’t traditional powers.
And there’s a second point to consider here. The scuttlebutt is that the Sugar Bowl made it clear it wanted Georgia to insure a sellout of the game. Take a look at what a compelling matchup Pete Thamel at The Quad came up with for the Sugar: Hawaii vs. Arizona State. Anybody think that one would have put the necessary number of asses in the seats in New Orleans?
Do I think that Fox will have some discussions with the bowls along the lines Elkon suggests? To the extent it’s a complaint about the sagging ratings, sure. Do I think that the bowls will yield completely to Fox along the lines Elkon suggests? Doubtful. Do I think the small fry schools are about to get screwed in a back room deal? You bet.
Over time, it will become apparent that Hawaii’s loss has done a lot of damage to the non-BCS conferences chances of putting one of their member schools in a BCS game. Going forward, if you’re coming out from the WAC, Conference USA or the Mountain West, you’d best have an impeccable resume if you want to crash the party.
UPDATE: Tony Barnhart makes an excellent point along these lines in his blog today:
… Consensus on anything is hard to come by in the bowl business because each conference has its own agenda and wants to protect its interests and its relationships.
There was no way the Big Ten, for example, was going to agree to let Georgia play in the Rose Bowl instead of Illinois. If I’m Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, it’s my job to use all of the political power I have to protect my conference.
And if I’m SEC commissioner Mike Slive, I’m not going to let the Rose take Georgia away from my bowl partner, the Sugar. The Sugar has already lost LSU to the BCS championship game and needs Georgia to protect its game. It is Slive’s job to protect the long-term interests of the SEC and not sacrifice them for one game in one year. That is what the SEC presidents pay him to do.
And quite frankly, if I’m the other BCS commissioners, why would I want to just give the Rose Bowl the best game (Southern Cal-Georgia) of the season? The Rose Bowl, along with the Big Ten and Pac-10, basically hold the rest of the BCS hostage to any kind of meaningful change. They have their own TV deal with ABC. They operate in their own universe.
Why in the word (sic) would the other commissioners want to help those guys?
Now that’s a good question.