“Spinning the message” is not limited to political operatives and political campaigns – although those folks have made spinning into an art form. Even in sports, folks find it necessary to provide “spin” to events. Consider the now mercifully ended college football bowl season. Some folks like to say that more people paid attention to the games this year than in any year in the past; they neglect to mention that there were more games this year than in previous years. Let me try to be factual here; in order to do that, I have to reveal my fundamental biases with regard to college football bowl games:
There are too many bowl games which leads to the inevitable result that too many mediocre teams are participating in bowl games.
After watching a full season of college football, I really am not interested in another game that pairs the fifth place finisher in the AAC against the sixth place finisher in the Sun Belt Conference. By late December, I just do not care about that game.
Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald seemingly shares my biases with regard to the plethora college football bowl games. I will share some of his commentary as I move along here:
“There’s a new type of fantasy football. This is when the NCAA fantasizes that anybody still cares after 40 college football bowl games.”
The reality of all this is that ESPN owns and operates many of the games and it owns the broadcast rights to most of the ones that it does not own and operate. ESPN does this because it needs programming; do not delude yourself that there is even a hint of altruism involved here. Here is another comment from Brad Dickson:
“We’re now at the point in college football bowl season when the ‘E’ in ESPN stands for ‘Enough!’ ”
The fact of the matter is that there were 11 college football bowl games before Christmas last year.
Only three of those games had a measurable rating on TV.
One of those three games with a measurable TV rating, was Utah vs BYU which is a huge rivalry game every year so it had an interest angle that no other bowl game had.
Other than the Utah/BYU game which drew 3.675M viewers, not a single one of the pre-Christmas games drew more than 2.335M viewers.
Moreover, eight of the eleven pre-Christmas bowl games drew fewer than 2.0M viewers.
A full listing of the games and the TV ratings and the number of viewers can be found here. From this compilation of data, we can see that “business picked up” after Christmas probably because folks had more leisure time on their hands after the Holiday and because more of the games involved “better than average teams”.
Nevertheless, if one happened to be grazing through the cable TV channels and came across one of the “lesser bowl games”, it was not difficult to see tons of empty seats in the stands at the game. Do not make a mistake and think that TV is the wrong yardstick to use with regard to measuring interest in these games; folks do not go out of their way to attend them either. The average attendance at all 40 bowl games was reportedly 43,817 and if that number seems astronomically high to you because you saw the early bowl games on TV and could almost count the house, that number is based on the officially released attendance figures. Officially released attendance figures might possibly include the number of tickets given to a local supermarket to give away with a purchase of more than $10 – whether or not the recipient used them to go to the game or used them to light the kindling under the Yule Log. Nonetheless, that average figure is a 2% decline from last year. Here is a link to a report summarizing attendance figures at the bowl games this year. Once again, Brad Dickson:
“Very popular this year: videos of ecstatic kids opening Christmas gifts and finding bowl tickets. My favorite was a kid who received tickets to the Quick Lane Bowl and asked if he could return them and get socks.”
In terms of fan interest, there are certainly a dozen – and perhaps as many as 18 – bowl games that can draw a sizeable TV audience and fill a reasonably sized football stadium to 80% capacity or higher. As for the other games, here is Brad Dickson on the subject one last time:
“I wouldn’t say attendance at the Foster Farms Bowl was not good, but even Foster didn’t show up.”
It is dangerous to compare a bowl game this year with the same game last year as a measure of “fan interest”. Such comparisons are alluring but simplistic. Consider one example only:
The Fiesta Bowl this year had a 6.2 TV rating which was up 35% from the TV rating for the Fiesta Bowl game last year. Impressive, right? Shows strong increasing interest, right?
Fiesta Bowl this year was a game between Notre Dame and Ohio State.
Fiesta Bowl last year was a game between Arizona and Boise St.
Meaning no offense whatsoever to fans of Arizona and Boise St., can anyone say with a straight face that either school commands anywhere close to the same degree of national attention as either Notre Dame or Ohio St.?
Finally, since Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald provided such a large fraction of the insight here today, let me close with another of his observations – this time about NFL football:
“Jilted St. Louis Rams fans sent owner Stan Kroenke a ‘huge pile of feces.’ I’m thinking this may be a subtle sign that not all fans are thrilled with the team’s move to Los Angeles.
“You know what the Rams typically call a huge pile of feces? The game plan.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………