It was the best of times ($$)…
But college football’s 2019 regular season proved a refreshing departure for the networks that paid hundreds of millions of dollars to show it. TV audiences were up — in many cases, way up.
“The SEC on CBS” saw a remarkable 24-percent year-over-year increase, resulting in the network’s most-watched season (average 7.1 million viewers) since 1990. FOX enjoyed its most-watched season (3.7 million), with a 12-percent bump from 2018. ESPN’s networks, which include ABC, enjoyed a four-percent increase for their 247 games (3.9 million viewers for ABC, 1.8 million for the cable networks).
… it was not so much the best of times.
In fact, average SEC home football attendance this season was the lowest it has been in a long time.
The league’s 14 teams combined to play 102 home games in 2019 — a number that includes three neutral-site games between two SEC teams (Florida-Georgia in Jacksonville, Arkansas-Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas, and the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta). Those games brought in a total of 7,418,914 fans. That’s 82,761 fewer fans than 2018 (7,501,675) despite there being two fewer games on the schedule that season (100).
The SEC averaged 72,735 fans in those 102 games in 2019. That’s a decrease of 2,282 from last season, and the conference’s lowest total since 2001, when it averaged 72,130.
The team’s high-water mark during that stretch, 78,274, came during the 2015 campaign. It hasn’t been a constant decline since then — the number dropped to 77,507 in 2016 and 73,571 in 2017, then went back up to 75,017 in 2018 before falling this season.
That looks like a mother of a canary in the coal mine, but Greg Sankey is quick to brush it off.
“Issues related to attendance are not unique to college sports,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said. “There are challenges that are common across sports, college and professional, such as viewing options through enhanced at-home and mobile technology and a new generation of fans with a changing set of attendance habits.”
And why not, with that sweet new TV deal just around the corner? Well, maybe because of this:
Beck also said that, on the year-end surveys Auburn sends out to season-ticket holders, one of the most important things to fans is kickoff time. The seven teams with increased attendance this season combined to play 13 home games that kicked off at noon ET/11 a.m. CT. The seven teams with decreased attendance combined to play 14.
The SEC’s television broadcast partners decide kickoff times.
I think you misspelled “dictate” there, podnah. But as long as the broadcast partner’s checks keep rolling in, nobody cashing them will care. Even though they might pretend differently…