Category Archives: College Football

“For years, the NCAA longed to build a football playoff system for one simple reason: money.”

My, what a fine anti-playoff screed John U. Bacon delivers here.  (Although I can’t figure out what Mark Emmert has to do with the CFP.)  Actually, it’s more of an anti-college football management screed, when you get down to it.

First, they quadrupled the number of bowl games, from 11 to 41, which require 82 teams to fill them. Now just about any team with a winning record gets to go.

Then they tacked on a twelfth regular season game, when schools play “tomato cans” like McNeese State, Norfolk State and Bethune-Cookman, all just to grab another payday.

Then they piled on conference title games, too, increasing the total games a team can play from 11 to 14 — just two shy of an NFL season.

But we need a playoff now, they told us, to determine who’s best on the field. How? Instead of picking two teams based on polls, strength of schedule and computerized rankings, now they pick four teams — based on polls, strength of schedule and computerized rankings. Problem solved. Instead of the third-ranked team complaining that it got screwed, now the fifth-place team does all the whining. Another problem solved.

Remember, it’s all for us fans.  Just ask Bill Hancock.

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, College Football

Today, in bowl season news

This header absolutely RULES.

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Filed under College Football, The Body Is A Temple

The most Georgia play of bowl season

Really, this gave me a real sense of déjà vu to watch, from last night’s Poinsettia Bowl between BYU and Wyoming:

Just like you draw it up.

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Filed under College Football

“The athletes are not a property of the university.”

Good piece from Pete Thamel exploring the decision of players like Fournette and McCaffrey to pass on playing in bowl games in an era when there doesn’t seem to be an end to expanding the pool.  And why is that?  C’mon, you know why.

That corporate sprawl offered another reminder—if you needed one—just how much cash is at stake. There’s a reason ESPN televises 38 of the 41 games and owns and operates 13 of them. There’s a reason that 27 of the 41 bowl games didn’t exist 30 years ago.

In a suite high above FAU Stadium during the second quarter, American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco recalled his time as an executive at CBS when they televised an Indiana-Butler game in 2012 that ended in an overtime upset of the No. 1 Hoosiers. Aresco was thrilled until he saw the Gildan New Mexico Bowl—between Arizona and Nevada—crush it in the ratings by 1.9 to 1.5. “That’s when I realized,” he said, “football had become king.”

If you’re ESPN, December is berry, berry good to you.

But bowl games have undeniably become the December background noise at your company holiday party, your December treadmill sprints and those cold nights when the Potato Bowl is more comforting than leaving the couch. Americans like watching football, as evidence by the 2015 Russell Athletic Bowl—between non-traditional powers Baylor and North Carolina—doing the same rating (2.6) as the top-rated regular season college basketball (UNC-Duke) last year. The December bowl orgy is annually one of the most flush ratings runs for ESPN every year…

Forget school spirit.  What about us couch potatoes on a cold weekday night needing the kind of fix only the Boca Raton Bowl can provide?

So, remember, kids — at least those rare and few of you gifted enough to have a chance to play on Sundays while being relegated to a lower-tier exhibition game for one last hurrah — if you’re not motivated to stick around for your teammates and dear old U, do it for all the college football junkies out there.  Otherwise, we’ll be stuck watching meaningless regular season college basketball games.  The horror!

ESPN and its advertisers are counting on you.  Don’t let them down.

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

Flatlining

A trend continues.

Home attendance at all major college football games declined for the sixth consecutive year, though once again at a smaller rate compared to some past seasons.

Football Bowl Subdivision crowds averaged 43,106 fans per game in 2016,downby less than 1 percent from 2015, according to a CBS Sports analysis of NCAA attendance data. The 2015 crowds also declined by less than 1 percent after a 4-percent drop in 2014.

This year’s average crowd was again the lowest since 2000 (42,631). Crowd sizes were down 7 percent since peaking in 2008 (46,565). Universities have tried with mixed results to keep fans in stadiums instead of watching for less money from the comfort of their home.

Better get moving on that improved Wifi experience, dudes.  And maybe turn the music volume up a notch while you’re at it.

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Filed under College Football

They don’t know what they’ve got ’til it’s gone… and maybe not even then.

There are times, believe it or not, when I wonder if I’m being too critical of people like Jim Delany and Mark Emmert when it comes to their business acumen.  I mean, nobody can be as blind to trends and economic developments as I make those guys out to be sometimes, right?

Then I’m reminded that in the end, we’re talking about camel herders.  And no matter how nicely you dress a camel herder, camels are what he knows best.

The NCAA Tournament followed a massive jump in ratings with a big tumble last season after switching the title game to cable TV.

The NCAA’s response: Give it time.

“You have to look at it over periods of time, not in one-year blips,” Mark Hollis, chair of the NCAA’s Division I men’s basketball committee, said Monday. “We’re in extremely good position as far as interest.”

The NCAA agreed to a 14-year deal with CBS and Turner in 2010, with the two companies essentially acting as one under the contract, combining on all aspects of the contract while alternating years on the Final Four.

The 2015 NCAA Tournament saw a huge surge in ratings for the game between Duke and Wisconsin, posting its highest average viewership in 22 years with 11.3 million viewers.

The Final Four was on TBS last season, marking the first time it aired on cable TV. Ratings for the entire tournament were down across CBS and the three Turner networks — TBS, Turner and truTV — and the title game drew a record-low rating, dropping 37 percent from 2015.

Gosh, who would have ever thought that pulling your signature event off the public airwaves and moving it to cable would have a negative impact on viewership?  Obviously not the humble herdsmen who took the best deal they could get.  Plus, it’s not all bad news.

“The difference in rating was somewhat predictable … the number of homes CBS is in than TBS is different,” said Dan Gavitt, NCAA vice president of men’s basketball championships. “The thing that struck me was that both CBS and Turner were thrilled with the numbers. They sold out all of their ad inventory weeks before the tournament. From an NCAA perspective, as long as the games are broadly available, then we are accomplishing our goal for the fans. Whether it’s on CBS or TBS, that’s the key.”

Yes, indeedy, the networks are thrilled, so the NCAA is doing its best by the fans.  Gavitt, who used to be an associate conference commissioner, by the way, sounds like a man who thinks he’s quite accomplished at making lemonade from lemons.  He’s just careful to avoid drinking his product — which means he has something in common with the 37% who skipped the Final Four.

For those of you who think college football postseason expansion is going to work out swimmingly, despite mounting empirical evidence to suggest otherwise, what should give even you pause for reflection is the willingness of the movers and shakers to give away value like that in return for short-term gain (although using the phrase “short-term” in the context of a fourteen-year broadcast contract is a stretch).  I don’t know where you come from, but tossing more than a third of your viewers out in a year’s time doesn’t strike me as a way to build your brand.  Face it, especially when you’re talking about how March Madness markets itself to the casual sports fan, getting large numbers of those people out of the habit of tuning in makes it likely they won’t all be coming back.

Oh, but that’s basketball, you say.  That doesn’t count because it’s not college football.  Again, you miss the point.  Football is just taking its first tentative steps away from the regional appeal that is the sport’s greatest and most unique quality.  That’s a path college basketball tread years ago.  It’s the path the camel herders are familiar with; they just think they know better where to walk now.

What makes them dangerous isn’t that they aren’t the smartest people in the room.  It’s that they think they are the smartest people in the room.  It’s easy to do a lot of irreparable damage in that mindset.

Take, for example, the biggest jewel the SEC has in its possession.  Not the SEC Network, which isn’t even generating the most revenue of any of the conference arrangements.  It’s the SEC on CBS.  That’s the only national broadcasting deal any conference has.  Jim Delany chased down Rutgers and Maryland to add viewership outposts.  Larry Scott bitches and moans because he can’t land a deal on DirecTV for the Pac-12 Network.  Meanwhile the SEC shows up all over America every Saturday in the fall.

That’s awesome branding.  That’s why Verne Lundquist is a household figure.  That’s why somebody like Brad Nessler jumped at the first opportunity from a prestigious ESPN broadcast slot to take Lundquist’s place.  It’s part of what makes the SEC the SEC.  Yet it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Sankey and his presidents sell it to the highest bidder when the broadcast contracts come up for renewal, wherever that means those games are shown.

It’s all part of the trend to go national, a trend that’s accelerating with the new prominence of the CFP.  Don’t believe me on that?  Check out what’s already happening with the bowls.

It’s not that they’re trying to kill the golden goose.  It’s more like they’re trying to perform plastic surgery to improve the goose’s looks, even though they’ve never been to med school.  Hey, it could work!  Just ask Dan Gavitt.

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, College Football, It's Just Bidness

“People don’t want to pay for what they don’t want to get.”

It was the best of times for Mickey and it was the worst of times.

For the second year in a row, Disney is poised to have another “Star Wars” megahit on its hands with the company on track to sell $130 million in U.S. pre-release tickets for next week’s “Rogue One.”

But no matter how well it performs at the box office, the film’s success may be overshadowed by Disney investors’ rising alarm about another part of the Magic Kingdom: ESPN, which is shedding viewers in record numbers.

ESPN was thrust into the spotlight in November when the ratings company Nielsen predicted the sports juggernaut would lose 621,000 cable subscribers that month. Nielsen estimated the sports network would lose another 555,000 subscribers in December.

The staggering losses have led to calls by analysts for Disney to spin off or sell the beleaguered network, which has lost 9 million subscribers in three years, according to company filings.

Contrary to this incredibly well-researched suggestion, it appears that even the WWL is not immune to a growing number of viewers who don’t like paying for things they don’t use.

The challenges ahead are not unique to ESPN. The pay-TV industry as a whole has seen many consumers trim back their cable subscriptions in favor of online video services — or, fed up with the rising cost of TV, forgo cable altogether.
“There’s an underlying theme of the bundle being the problem,” said Gene Kimmelman, president of the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge.

Ummm… that’s kind of a problem, isn’t it?  Well, yeah, it is.

But ESPN remains one of the world’s most profitable sports networks, and its struggles raise troubling questions about the entire TV ecosystem. Long considered the linchpin of the traditional bundle, live sports is often what compels viewers to stay with their cable provider rather than cut the cord. But as more consumers defect in the face of growing cable bills, what is happening at ESPN could end up affecting channels up and down the lineup. And for Disney, one of the world’s most powerful media companies, the problems at ESPN risk dampening the success of its other brands, such as Star Wars, Marvel Studios and Pixar.

“Most of the Disney empire is healthy, but its stock price has been suffering to the downside because we have weak subscriber growth at ESPN,” said Laura Martin, a media analyst at Needham and Co. “So that weak subscriber growth is a shadow over the whole empire.”

That empire shit is kind of creepy, but we’ll save that for a later day.  The short term problem for Disney is that ESPN is bleeding subscribers, but the sports division is still it’s biggest revenue generator, and by a pretty wide margin.

ESPN and its siblings, such as ABC, account for the biggest chunk of Disney’s business by far, pulling in $24 billion in revenue this fiscal year. The company’s next biggest segment, theme parks, made $17 billion.

So while it would be an exaggeration to start tossing around expressions like death spiral, there’s no question that Disney’s stock price has taken a short-term hit.  Big companies like that don’t tend to take short-term hits in stock prices well.  What to do, then?

There’s only so much you can do to reduce internal overhead.  That only leaves one other area to generate savings.

ESPN is hardly the only programming company facing long-term pressure as consumers increasingly opt for Internet-based video streaming that undercuts the legacy cable bundle. TV providers such as Dish Network and AT&T have raced to offer packages of traditional channels as Internet-based apps; the outlook for those efforts is still uncertain, but some analysts say ESPN faces a steeper challenge than most because of the rapidly rising cost to the network of acquiring sports broadcasting rights.

“Let’s face it – sports has changed,” said Jim Hill, a longtime Disney analyst. “It’s gotten so expensive … it’s a scary time all around the barn right now for sports, and that’s another thing that Disney’s eyeballing.”

The rights to broadcast live sports cost cable companies a collective $16 billion last year, according to a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers — up 50 percent from 2011. That figure is expected to grow another 30 percent by 2020.

Disney is in better shape to weather that storm than most of its competitors for live sports programming are — as one media analyst puts it about the others, “They’re losing subscribers, but they don’t have theme parks to protect them.”   That doesn’t mean live sports will become a programming bargain as much as it means there may wind up being fewer interested buyers for the product if cable subscribers keep voting with their feet.

Which brings us to the tricky question:  if you’re a conference commissioner, or a school president telling said commissioner what to do, do you really want to live in a world where ESPN as the last buyer standing has an even more commanding presence over broadcasting contracts than it already enjoys?

It’s a question I figure the Delanys and Sankeys will worry about after it’s too late to do anything about it, except take what’s offered.  And if they think they’ll eventually be better off with their own home-grown media empires (to borrow a phrase), just remember that a few years ago, everybody thought Larry Scott was a genius.

Down the road, we may be using that best of times/worst of times reference to describe ourselves.

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