Home for the holidays, asses in the seats – are bowl games doomed?

Three things I’ve noticed this bowl season:  a decent number of exciting games, the blessed peace that derives from Craig James’ absence from the airwaves and smaller crowds.

With regard to that last item, it turns out I’m not imagining things.

… Tuesday night’s Sugar Bowl was the 30th of this season’s 35 games, each of which also was played last season. The total attendance for those games is more than 2.5% lower this season than it was last season. If this trend holds for the remaining five games, the average bowl attendance for the season would fall to 50,542. That would be the lowest since 1978-79, when the number of games expanded to 15 from 13 and the average was 48,404. (In 2002-03, when the number of games expanded to 28 from 25, the average was 50,575.)

This season’s attendance also is nearly 3% lower when compared against the previous five-season average for the 25 games played in each of those seasons.

I’m sure Dan Wetzel, PlayoffPAC and others of their ilk are feverishly preparing missives that this is proof fans are finally fed up with the BCS.  And far be it from me to discount that possibility may exist for some – although I’d find that far more convincing if broadcast numbers are down in a similar fashion.  (Also, lest we forget, it’s not as if dissatisfaction with the BCS is something that came into being just now.)

You can probably blame some of the drop on an economy that’s still in the dumps for most of us.  But I think there are two other factors more deserving of the blame.

First, there are too many bowl games.  The more games, the more opportunities for mid-major schools with small fan bases and power conference schools coming off disappointing seasons to play in the postseason.  Neither are recipes for large attendance figures.

Second, as much as the powers that be proclaim the sacredness of the bowl season, the reality is that they piss all over it at any given opportunity in the chase for the almighty dollar.

… Fans aren’t dumb. They know when they’re getting played, whether it’s games that don’t matter, matchups that don’t make sense, or buying tickets from schools that don’t go as low as the open market.

Pro-BCS folks say a playoff would hurt the bowl tradition. They neglect to mention the sport already sold out a sacred tradition, New Year’s Day, by stretching out the bowl season to milk every dollar and watering down Jan. 1.

Three years ago, Florida State became the first team in 58 years to play on New Year’s Day without a winning record. Four more 6-6 teams have since followed on the game’s New Year’s date.

It’s foolish to expect people to continue to pay full price for a cheapened product.  But the bowls and schools don’t care because that’s not where the real money is.  Or, as Jon Solomon puts it, “Bowls once were designed strictly for local communities. Now they’re TV programming to get us through the holidays.”

That’s especially true when the WWL owns several of ’em outright.

I don’t see where a playoff makes a difference, either – if anything, that probably accelerates the process of converting the postseason into TV fodder.  If the trends continue, at some point, college football will have little choice but to move all but the last playoff game or two over to college campuses if the postseason is to have any relevant attendance.  (Would anyone attend an early round NIT game otherwise?)

As for whether we should have any hope that a bunch of wise men will get together, recognize the problem and take steps to preserve one of the unique traditions in American sports, I leave you with this:

… She wasn’t specific but said with many conference realignments pending, Bowl Championship Series executive director “Bill Hancock and the BCS and all of us as bowl directors … have to look at what’s going on — can you tweak it, can you make some changes. … The onus is on each of us as bowl directors. We’re only a part of college football, but we need to do what’s best for our conference partners, our TV partners and our sponsorship partners.

“A lot of things have led up to this,” she added. “We need to do our due diligence and look at what’s in the best interest of our business and make changes appropriately.”

Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.


Filed under College Football, ESPN Is The Devil, It's Just Bidness

26 responses to “Home for the holidays, asses in the seats – are bowl games doomed?

  1. The Lone Stranger

    I hadn’t a clue that they owned 7 bowls outright. Knowledge of this causes me to somewhat regret my unhealthy passion for the sport, because I know that I watched at least a slice of each of those “promotions.”


    • SouthGa Dawg

      Didn’t know that either. But, please don’t take away the Christmas Eve bowl. That is a great night for a bowl game. My biggest problem is the BCS games held during the week. Who the hell wants to travel to the Orange Bowl for a Wednesday night game? You’d have to take a whole week off to see your #12th ranked team vs the #20th ranked team. I’ll be damned if I’m going to that game. Other than that, I love 30 plus bowl games. The more CF the better. Guys, after Monday night we won’t see it again until September.


  2. Ubiquitous GA Alum

    “Fans aren’t dumb. … or buying tickets from schools that don’t go as low as the open market.”

    Or getting lousy seats to bowl games like UGA did for the Outback Bowl. The first 5K UGA fans that ordered tickets were sent to the 300’s and endzone for the bowl. I wrote AD McGarity an e-mail on this point prior to the game.

    Her personally responded (in the same day) and said it was a concern of his too and would work with the bowls/conference in the coming year to secure better seating.


    • Doug

      My parents, both UVA grads, ordered tickets to the Peach Bowl through the alumni association and wound up sitting in the end-zone nosebleeds. A few days after she received the tickets in the mail, my mom went on StubHub and found she could’ve gotten much better seats for a lot cheaper.

      Compounding the problem is the fact that bowls almost always force teams to buy a certain amount of tickets at full price, and when the schools can’t move the crappy seats they’ve been allotted, they have to eat the cost.

      You’d think it’d be in the bowls’ interest to have full stands when the bowls are shown on TV, but maybe not.


  3. W Cobb Dawg

    I never get enough college football and enjoy watching many of the bowls, particularly the one’s televised around 5 pm. Watching Utah beat gtu at a neutral site was great. I agree dragging the season past new year’s day may be taking things a bit too far. The officiating was poor for a lot of the bowls, but I liked most of the match-ups. As far as attendance, no, I wouldn’t sit in 50 degree weather at 8:00 pm to watch a couple 6-6 teams play.


  4. Will Trane

    Long distance from West Virginia to Miami. From Wisconsin to Pasadena. And etc. Costs of the venue are weighed against the time and the events during Christmas and New Year holidays. But for the programs, conferences, and universities it is a big “pay-out”.

    And if Blair Walsh makes the FG we fell better about ourselves. Typical of the thought process in Athens. For me, think not. Made or not made changes nothing with regard to game management, game plan, and the offense. Granted MSU was the best team in the Big 10. Defense kept us in the game, but it could not win it for us. Offense. Offense. If you traveled from West Virginia to Miami and saw that “show” [think that is a word the announcers used once in the game], well, you got your monies worth. Now many in West Virginia woke-up this morning saying I wished I had gone now.


  5. paul

    Correct me if I am wrong but didn’t we have about a dozen teams in various bowls who won no more than six games? There were four teams who fired their coaches that went to bowls. One game featured two teams that had BOTH fired their head coach. Think about that. If your employer believes you performed so poorly as to deserve firing why would you receive a bowl invite? There are too many bowls. They’re expensive to attend. Besides, everything looks great on HD TV.


  6. sUGArdaddy

    The people running things can’t get out of their own way. And if you think the bowl attendance was bad, think about a semifinal neutral site game halfway across the country. If we go to a playoff and the quarters or semis are played in the bowls, it will be an attendance disaster.


    • By Georgia We Did It

      But a quarter or semifinal game would be two top ten teams playing each other for a chance ot move on to next week. If it’s in my backyard I’ll go even if UGA wasn’t playing. That how you get people in the seats….have some good, meanignful matchups. Other than the BCSNCG there is nothing compelling about who wins, but with a tourney all that matters is who wins.


      • Macallanlover

        By Georgia is right, four quarter finals mid-December at home sites of the four lowest seeds, two semis in the January 1 bowls, and the finals two weeks later would all be sold out. Not even close to a disaster.


  7. Doug

    I keep waiting for attendance to drop off to the point where the Johnny-come-lately cash-in bowls such as the Beef O’Brady’s, BBVA Compass and the like can’t turn a profit and start disappearing. But as long as ESPN can earn ad revenue for ’em, I doubt they’ll be going anywhere. Hell, ESPN had a hand in founding a few of the more recent ones.


    • Cojones

      And it is unfortunate that they won’t go broke, but instead inflate their bowl’s worth with business-deductible plugs on their own network. Finally found out where the stupid-named bowls came from. It fits.


  8. ChicagoDawg

    I am gonna sound like some old man yelling at neighborhood kids to get off my lawn, but the networks (primarily the WWL) have absolutely ruined the bowl concept. The proliferation of bowls, primarly subsized by TV’s insatiable appetite for programming/content, have resulted in an endless expanse of mediocre games. The whole idea of attaining a bowl berth has been devalued by the fact that you have 6-6 teams battling each other for who-sucks-less supremecy in the Papa John’s Who Gives a Shit bowl. Consequently, many of the games feature uninspired play by the participants and apathy from fans who wisely decide to stay home. Lastly, the New Year’s Day tradition we grew up with has been completely obliterated and replaced with a week long fest of suck, whereby you forget there is a forgettable Orange Bowl match-up being played on a Wednesday night. Brutal.


    • paul

      If it were really only a week. But this year they started before Christmas and end on January 9th. I ain’t a rocket scientist, but I think that’s, well, it’s more than a week.


  9. stoopnagle

    4+ hours and not one Weedeater reference. Must be a young group.


    • ChicagoDawg

      Too obvious of a reference.


    • paul

      Unfortunately, I am old enough to have grown up watching black and white television sets that received exactly three channels: ABC, CBS and NBC. Man, when TBS came along, we were REALLY cooking with gas! I remember the Weedeater despite the fact that I wish I didn’t.


    • Cojones

      For 2 years I thought they were referring to the cows from the Chic-Fil-A ad.


  10. HK

    I’d love to see the lower tier bowl games be more regional in the way their selection pool is limited, rather than by conference affiliation so more people would/could attend. I’m sure that seems to run counter the whole “television markets” thing, but I’d argue that the increased quality of the product due to there being a more crowded stadium, which makes for a much more exciting game because the players do react to that, would make up for it. When players see asses in the seats they know their fans care, and play harder. This is a fact.

    Take Utah v. Tech and Nevada v. Southern Miss, for example. No matter where those bowls are, the fans of at least one of the teams from each of those games is having to travel at least half way across the country if they want to attend a game against a team they have zero familiarity with, following a poor season. So very few people attend either game.

    Switch that to Tech v. Southern Miss and Utah v. Nevada in locations near each team and I’d hazard a guess your attendance skyrockets along with overall fan interest.

    I look at the new agreement the Pac 12 and Big 10 have and see a possibility. Imagine if all conferences had similar agreements, but instead of it involving playing each other in the regular season, it was for shuffling bowl selection slots between the conferences’ teams that are regionally close.

    This way, the lower tier bowls pick in their selection order from multi-conference regional pools, rather from individual conferences. For example, the southern ACC teams would be in the same pool as the eastern (geographically) SEC teams, and other non-BCS conference teams located in the southeast. Northern ACC teams in the same pool as northeastern Big East and Big 10 teams. Etc., etc., etc.

    So bowls located in the southeast are picking from the southeastern pool. A bowl in Yankee stadium picks from northeastern schools, etc.

    I’m all for traveling to Pasadena if UGA ever got into a Rose bowl, and will go to New Orleans for a Sugar bowl every time because those are huge games after great seasons. The cost benefit analysis that goes into whether or not I attend a lower tier bowl after a bad season would change a whole lot if I didn’t have to travel all the way to, say, Shreveport to see it.


    • By Georgia We Did It

      You’ll end up having the same stale matchups year in and year our (much like they are now). You might have an attanedndce boost for a year or two but then you’ll wake up and realize you’ve played (insert southern ACC team here) 3 times in the past 4 years and won’t care anymore.

      Although I know it will never happen, they need to scrap conference affiliation so bowls can choose who they want. Bowls want the tix to sell out, but they are hamstrung by conferences deciding who can go to their bowl, geography be damned.


      • HK

        I am all for letting bowls pick who they want but the inevitable outcome will be that the first picks will always go with big 6 v. big 6, leaving the non big 6ers with only rare big 6 match ups in bowls. The ratings would be skewed drastically in favor of the big 6 match ups, and the fairness patrol that is ESPN will not allow this, as much as I would love to see it.

        I completely favor letting the bowls pick whoever they want over the regional pool thing i mentioned; I just see something like the regional pools as more likely to actually be considered if it were proposed.

        While certain teams would be in the same bowls pretty often, I believe no selection committee would be dumb enough to pick the same match up 3 out of 4 years. Even under the current system there is enough wiggle room to avoid that.


        • Cojones

          I see some things opposite. If the bowls selected the teams, they wouldn’t necessarily go for Big 6. Case in point this year would be a free-for-all to get Boise St matched with a tough opponent. It would create good PR for the bowl with interest throughout the country for a put-up-or-shutup game about the less powerful who are worthy. I would have loved a rematch in the Outback or match’um with Arkie. Hell, it’s only a bowl game.


  11. Dog in Fla

    The hostess will seat you now (h/t Wetzel)


  12. 81Dog

    For ESPN, bowl games are just a bridge to get you from a car commercial to the next beer commercial. The suits in Connecticut dont care if the gate for the Outback Bowl was in the low 3 figures; they only care about ratings and demographics of tv viewers, and they laugh all the way to the bank.

    Bowl execs made their deals with the ESPN devil; they love the bowl money, the rest is a regrettable inconvenience. Play it at 11pm on a Tuesday? Sure thing, Mr. ESPN Suit! College administrators dont complain, as they’re third party beneficiaries of the aforementioned devilish deal. They love the bowl money, too. If they can get some suckers to pay them in March for a “prospective bowl game” in December or the next January, great! A lot of folks will just eat the cost of the tickets, and even the ones who cough up later are just found money to the AD. Play a post New Year’s Day game? Why should MIke Adams, or any other collegiate suit, care about fan inconvenience? He gets a private jet to the game, a limo to his suite at the Ritz Carlton, and a limo to his box at the game. Working stiffs who balk at sending Mike more of their money are just bad fans who can be replaced.


  13. LostDawg

    I glad to see others miss the days of one intense New Years Day. My favorite New Years Day was in 1983 when Georgia played number 2 Texas in the Cotton Bowl. No one gave Georgia snowball’s chance in heck to win the game, but John Lastinger pulled out the 10-9 upset setting off an incredible chain of events ending with Miami upsetting number 1 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. I think Auburn and Syracuse played to a 3-3 tie in the Sugar Bowl that year. My friends and I were watching the games on two televisions in my Athens apartment. The current bowl system has ruined my New Years celebration. This year I only watched 3 games and don’t plan to watch Alabama vs. LSU. I hate summer re-runs.