Take as a starting premise that there are more bowl games than ever because we like to watch, not because we show up. Add to that the profitability that comes from ESPN owning or controlling many bowl games outright.
If not for ESPN, many of these games might not exist. ESPN Events, a subsidiary of ESPN, owns and operates 11 bowl games, including two new ones this year.
All but one of the 39 postseason games this season will be broadcast by ESPN or ABC networks, both owned by The Walt Disney Co.
By owning the games, Charlotte-based ESPN Events can sell tickets and sponsorships to the games and not have to pay an unaffiliated company for TV broadcast rights. It’s an investment that usually pays off with a big live TV audience attractive to sponsors.
“We’ve built a very viable business that we’re really pleased with,” said Pete Derzis, senior vice president and general manager of ESPN Events…
“They (ESPN) need live content, even mediocre live content,” Maestas told USA TODAY Sports. “Even 400,000 viewers in a sad bowl with 25,000 people in the stands is getting better (viewership) than 100 channels out there.”
Shake gently and voilà!
Sometime in the next several years, the powerful overlords of college football finally might decide they’ve seen enough.
To heck with ticket sales, they might say. Instead of struggling to draw crowds to stadiums, why not just stage some of their postseason bowl games in mammoth television studios?
Even a live studio audience would be optional. All they’d really need is a network to televise the games and sponsors to buy in.
Your idea of who “the powerful overlords of college football” are and USA Today’s may vary. Here’s where I put my money:
“Fans are voting with their remotes and with their eyeballs,” said Ilan Ben-Hanan, ESPN’s vice president for programming and acquisitions. “I take issue with the notion of judging what’s a good idea based on how many people are in the stands. There are a lot of sports out there that would kill to have tens of thousands of people in the stands.”
It’s the coming reality.
… The average attendance for bowl games has declined each of the past six seasons, down to 49,116 last season, the lowest mark since 1978-79, when there were 15 bowls, according to the NCAA bowl record book.
At the same time, ticket sales generally have decreased in importance for bowl revenues. They accounted for $150 million – about 33% — of the $445 million in total gross receipts for all bowl games in 2012-13, according to the most recent available data on gross bowl receipts obtained by USA TODAY Sports. That percentage had decreased every year since 2008-09, when ticket sales comprised nearly 38% of all bowl revenue.
Television and media revenue, sponsorships and other sources make up the rest.
“More money in sports is starting to come from TV than from tickets,” Maestas said. “There was a day when the only thing that justified the game going on was ticket sales, because there was no TV. We are heading to the day when it’s possible to put on a college football event with no fans.”
Boy, that’s some progress you’ve got there, college football.