Category Archives: BCS/Playoffs

Nick Saban for college football commissioner

I’m only half-joking.

Altogether the New Year’s Six bowls lost 19 percent of their audience from a year earlier. CFP executive director Bill Hancock’s subsequent PR spin — calling the drop “modest” and urging people to remember that “one year does not make a trend” — sounded a whole lot like the persistently tone-deaf defenses he and the commissioners used to trot out about the oft-criticized BCS.

Obviously, neither commissioners nor bowl officials could control the lopsided nature of games like the Cotton (a 38-0 Alabama victory) and Rose (Stanford drilled Iowa 45-16), but results alone did not fully explain the erosion. Not only did the New Year’s Eve semifinals inconvenience many fans, but they also managed to make the New Year’s Day games feel largely anticlimactic.

The Granddaddy of them All, the Rose Bowl, used to enjoy TV ratings in the high teens or low 20s. This year’s garnered a record-low 7.4. Which is not entirely unexpected when you serve the main course before the appetizers.

“I am concerned about how does a playoff and a bowl system coexist, and how could we make it better if that’s possible,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said at his morning-after press conference here Tuesday. “. . . [It’s] this whole dynamic of how do we keep a healthy bowl system — which I think is great for college football, it’s a lot of positive self-gratification for a lot of players who had a good season — and the national interest that we have in a playoff, which sort of overwhelms the importance of all the other bowl games.”

He’s right, you know.

We’ve got exactly what you’d expect from a set up that’s a pastiche of the traditional bowl system and a desire to lay a playoff arrangement on top of that.  The underlying motive is to wring as much money out of the sport’s following as possible.  That motive’s not any different from any other major sports enterprise in this country, of course.  It’s the implementation that’s so cocked up.

The New Year’s Eve semis aren’t going away anytime soon, though, in large part because of the Rose and Sugar’s partner conferences locked in their Jan. 1 timeslots with ESPN before the larger playoff was finalized. While the Rose has been played in that window for decades, this year’s largely forgettable Ole Miss-Oklahoma State primetime Sugar Bowl emerged from a “tradition” that the SEC and Big 12 created way back in 2012.

And they’re not budging, either.

“We’ve got an important and meaningful relationship with the Sugar Bowl over time that the Big 12 and SEC worked to establish a contract and an agreement that that’s when that game would be played,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said here Sunday. “That is important to us. I think it’s clearly important to our fans. It was important to the Oklahoma State and Big 12 fans who were in New Orleans. We’re going to protect that tradition.”

If you can’t respect a first-year commissioner’s passion for a three-year tradition, what can you respect?

Mandel is right about where things are heading when he writes,

And ultimately, most of us realize that’s where the sport is ultimately headed — an eight-team playoff with early-round games played on campuses. It won’t happen anytime soon, what with 10 years left on the current playoff contract. But the commissioners built this system as a somewhat clunky hybrid of the traditional bowl season and a bracketed tournament. As interest in the non-playoff bowls wane, protecting the bowls’ interests will inevitably become a lower priority.

Sankey and his peers will deny that all the while as it comes to pass – I can hear Bill Hancock explain it all now – but it will still happen.  And we’ll be told it’s being done in our interest, too.

16 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs

Maybe they’re not as smart as they think they are.

Here are a couple of viewership tidbits from last night’s broadcast to digest.

I’m sure Baghdad Bill will do his usual fine job of dissembling with regard to those numbers, but here’s my question:  what if they’re an indication of an inherent structural problem?

More specifically, I would suggest that both Disney and the brains behind the CFP have adopted a marketing strategy that amounts to converting college football’s regional brand into a more national one.  After all, a bigger audience is where the money is.

But what if they’re wrong about being able to change public attitudes about college football?  (New Year’s Eve wasn’t exactly a success in that department.)  What if the sport’s regional appeal is as good as it gets?  What if moving the title game from ABC to ESPN will always result in reduced viewership?  How does matching teams up from small Southern college towns in a national title game ever resonate with the same kind of passion outside of the South that it does inside?

Most importantly, if this really is a reflection of reality, how long do the people running ESPN and college football keep beating their heads in a futile effort to create a market that will never exist?  And how hard do they beat their heads doing so?

It’s not that I have an answer to any of that.  It’s that I doubt people like Delany do, either.

********************************************************************

UPDATE:  Nick Saban has a related question.

94 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs, College Football, ESPN Is The Devil

Random championship game thoughts

That was a fun game to watch.  For once, I didn’t mind staying up late.

  • I know it’s not kosher to name the MVP from the losing side, but anyone who didn’t think Deshaun Watson was the pivotal player on the field is kidding himself.  He ran, he threw, he dodged bullets… basically he did everything except take Larry Culpepper’s drink tray away and sell concessions.  The game wouldn’t have been close without him there; instead, Alabama needed to pull off some special teams magic to secure the win.
  • Dual-threat quarterbacks have been Kryptonite to Saban/Smart defenses and last night was no exception.  Now that’s Georgia’s problem, too.
  • At some point last night Mark Richt had to be thinking what might have been if Georgia had signed Watson, right?
  • Again, Kiffin’s playcalling was a mixed bag, but he did a masterful job getting Coker’s head unscrewed in the second half.
  • Speaking of Junior, Uber was his friend after the game.
  • That screaming you heard near the end of the game wasn’t from deliriously happy Alabama fans.  It came from bettors who watched Clemson cover the spread with twelve seconds left in the game.

70 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs

Marketing genius

A Power 5 football commissioner actually said this.

Gee, thanks.  I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to work, though.

These guys don’t deserve to run a hot dog stand, let alone a major sports enterprise.

8 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs, General Idiocy

ESPN made its college football playoffs bed.

And now it gets to lie in it.

Despite the efforts of the College Football Playoff committee and some media outlets downplaying the financial hit ESPN took by being forced to televise the two national championship semi-final games on New Year’s Eve, media buyers say the network owes upwards of $20 million in ad makegoods for ratings shortfalls for the two games.

ESPN may have gotten a bit greedy when setting its ratings estimates and offering higher guarantee levels to advertisers for the two games, knowing audiences might not flock to their TV sets, despite the optimism of the CFP committee. However, advertisers are concerned about next season’s potential audience levels for the games, which will also be televised on New Year’s Eve. Even if the ratings guarantees by ESPN are set lower, advertisers would prefer the games be moved to New Year’s Day or even on consecutive primetime nights, exclusive of New Year’s Eve, when more people would likely watch.

But CFP committee officials are on record as adamantly supporting the continued airing of the playoff series games on New Year’s Eve as scheduled, which will occur in seven of the remaining 10 years of the 12-year original deal. And that position has been taken even after the 36% combined ratings decline for the two games was disclosed.

So ESPN is caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, it has to keep its mouth shut and parrot the CFP’s belief that ratings will get better in subsequent New Year’s Eve telecasts, even though privately they believe that to be nonsense. It can’t been seen criticizing its long-term partner publicly. On the other hand, ESPN has to hear the wrath of its advertisers who saw their ad dollars spent on the severe under-delivery of the guaranteed audience for the two games.

There’s greed involved?  I’m shocked, shocked to learn that.  And before we get to next year’s telecasts, ESPN has to worry about Monday night.

Fast forward to Monday night’s college football championship game with many buyers not sure that the ratings will match last year’s record numbers. This time, unlike the New Year’s Eve debacle, it would not be because of when the game is airing, but because of the two teams participating.

While Clemson enters that game undefeated and ranked first in the nation, and Alabama is rated second in the polls, neither is from a major market. While Alabama might have more of a national following. Clemson has virtually none, although many may tune in to see if Clemson can complete its season undefeated.

But buyers are still concerned that shelling out as much as $1.3 million per 30 second spot might not get them the ratings they were guaranteed. And much like for the two semi-final games, ESPN did not leave much money on the table.

Last year’s game drew 33.4 million viewers and an 18.2 household rating, making it the most watched program in the history of cable. Buyers say in order for ESPN to bump up its asking price from $1 million per 30 for last year’s championship game to $1.3 million this year, it had to sizably increase its ratings guarantees.

None of which is apparently the concern of Baghdad Bill and his bosses, something that’s making some of the natives a bit restless.

Media buyers are sympathetic to ESPN’s situation and are also appalled and angry at the attitude of the NCAA and the College Football Playoff committee and the public comments being made by their executives.

The CFP’s Hancock told The New York Times this week, “We don’t make decisions based on television numbers. I don’t have a TV number that influences my measurable for success.”

Talk about a slap in the face to his media partner ESPN which is now some $20 million in the hole because of Hancock’s arrogance, after the network paid the CFP $600 million for the TV rights of the bowl games, including the two New Year’s Eve semi-finals.

One buyer is hoping that ESPN, which tried to get the committee to change the date away from New Year’s Eve this season to no avail, reapproaches the committee and makes another attempt for next season.

“If I were ESPN, I would have another conversation with the CFP and I would walk into that meeting with some of the major bowl sponsors and advertisers to demand the date be changed,” the buyer says.

Yeah, that’s gonna work like a charm.

One competing exec whose network carries both college and NFL games, sympathizes with ESPN, but says there is not much that can be done if the CFP sticks to its position.

“You do these long-term TV rights deals hoping that if an issue comes up that things can be altered, but if the content provider refuses, the network is stuck,” the exec says. “It’s like getting married and hoping you can change your partner. Most times you can’t.”

I think I detect a faint undertone of glee there.  Not that I can blame whoever that is for a little gloating.  He’s got good news for us fans, too.

The exec says ESPN, in addition to the units it held back in the college championship and NFL wild card games, can find ways to slip in extra commercials in during replay and injury timeouts, although even those are usually pre-sold with advertisers on a list.  [Emphasis added.]

Yay for us!

So how does the long game play out here?  Well, if this is what ESPN has to look forward to…

Meanwhile ESPN, despite its “partnership” with the CFP, finds itself alone on the island with no help from the committee or its leadership.

As Hancock told USA Today this week, “Let’s see what happens. We’re confident that every year will be different and over time these games will be ingrained into a part of the New Year’s Eve tradition.”

And while it waits for that to happen, ESPN can lower its ratings guarantees, charge less for its ads, and not cover the $600 million TV rights fee it is paying the CFP.

… the odds are that no broadcast partner is going to warmly embrace the next CFP opportunity in the same way that Mickey has.  So if down the road Hancock’s bosses want to keep the money rolling in , there’s really only one way to sweeten that pot.

14 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs, ESPN Is The Devil, It's Just Bidness

Use the Force, dope.

There are no words.

Remember, this guy gets paid to say shit like that.

**********************************************************************

UPDATE:  The full quote –

If he was misinterpreted, it’s because he’s not someone who gets the benefit of the doubt.

10 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs, Blowing Smoke

Because, in the end, it was all about academics.

The NCAA and another day of making it up as they go along.

Next up, it’s either ask the NCAA for a waiver of the 20-hour rule, or just get the school to change its academic schedule.  As long as it’s for the good of the kids, you know…

19 Comments

Filed under Academics? Academics., BCS/Playoffs, The NCAA