Many people consider Labor Day Weekend to be the end of summer and the beginning of autumn here in the US. Astronomers know that today is the day when the sun crosses the equator from north to south starting astronomical autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. Welcome to the Fall…
One of the bellwether calendar entries of the Fall is college football on Saturdays. So far in this season, it seems to me as if there have been more interesting out-of-conference scheduled games than I recall from previous years. For the Power 5 Conferences we have already had:
- Auburn/Penn State
- Oregon/Ohio State
This is a positive direction for college football in my mind but the divide that seems to be happening in the sport puts that “trend” in danger. Notwithstanding how you may feel about the expansion of the SEC and/or the poaching of schools from one conference to another, if there are “polar camps” that develop in college football, the scheduling of quality out-of-conference games will become much more difficult. And for fans of college football writ large, that is not a good outcome.
From the list above, Clemson/Georgia and LSU/UCLA paired teams from the SEC against teams from the so-called “Alliance of Conferences”. To date, the “Alliance” has done nothing other than to announce its existence. It has not explicitly declared war on the SEC, but it was clear to me that the “Alliance” came together as a response to the SEC poaching Texas and Oklahoma from the Big-12 thereby creating instability within other conferences.
If the existence of the “Alliance” alone is enough to avoid open warfare among the conferences, then it will be seen as a positive entity. On the other hand, it could be an instrument of internecine warfare in college football. To be clear, that would be a terrible outcome.
Because I firmly believe that TV money and its availability is at the core of all this restructuring and Alliance-making in college football, I think that the networks that pay the TV rights’ fees should be motivated to assure that they continue to get quality programming – – and the six games listed above would qualify as “quality programming”. Those are “destination games”; I have no attraction to or affiliation with any of the schools on that list but those are six games that caught my attention and attracted my eyeballs to the screen. From the point of view of a TV network exec, that is a big plus; and since it is the TV network execs who are handing out that coveted TV money, I would think they would want to assure that any rift that emerges between conferences or “Alliances” would not jeopardize the existence of these “destination games”. Stay tuned; this story is not nearly played out…
There is another “sports on TV” issue floating around out there that has not gotten a lot of attention. ESPN and FOX each have rights’ deals with Major League soccer (MLS) to televise games. Execs at FOX have made an interesting scheduling decision for airing one of the MLS playoff games:
- On Thanksgiving Day, FOX will televise the Bears/Lions game in the 1:00 PM EST time slot. That puts the Cowboys/Raiders game in the late-afternoon EST time slot on CBS.
- FOX will counter-program that late-afternoon NFL game with an MLS playoff game.
I read one report that accused MLS of hubris here as if to say it was folly to think that MLS could possibly compete for an audience with an NFL game. While it is certainly correct to think the NFL game will dominate the ratings numbers, I disagree with that interpretation for two reasons:
- Since FOX is the one paying the rights’ fee, it has the loudest voice in deciding when it will put the game on the air. It seems to me that FOX is the one who created this “competition”.
- Since the FOX execs know – they do not suspect”, they know – that CBS and the NFL will dominate the ratings for the time periods when the Cowboys/Raiders game is on the air, this is a smart move for them. The rights’ fee they have paid to MLS is a sunk cost; why not put that event up against the ratings juggernaut instead of spending more money on some other programming that will also be overwhelmed in the ratings book?
Last year, the Cowboys played the Football Team in the late-afternoon TV time slot. That game drew 30.6 million viewers; let me put that number into perspective:
- That was the largest TV audience for any program since the Super Bowl in February 2020.
- It would continue to be the largest audience until the start of the NFL playoffs several weeks after it aired.
I do not see this as a bold move by MLS nor anything related to hubris; I think this is simply a bottom-line decision to minimize costs by FOX execs for programming in that time slot.
Finally, since money and “economics” have been a thread through today’s rant, let me close with this observation by George Bernard Shaw:
“If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………