The three playoff games now are the three most watched telecasts in cable TV history. Yes, that qualifies as a win.
A big reason for the success was staging the semifinal games on Jan. 1. With everyone nursing hangovers, the Rose Bowl (Florida State-Oregon) and Sugar Bowl (Ohio State-Alabama) each generated more than 28 million viewers. The games created a huge buzz that carried over to Monday’s title game.
It seems like the perfect plan. So why are they messing with it next season?
In a shockingly bad decision, the semifinals will be played on Dec. 31 at the Cotton and Orange Bowls.
I may be headed for the senior citizen’s home, but we still go out on New Years’ Eve. And I’m pretty sure the younger demo starts partying on Dec. 30. So why schedule those high-profile bowls on a night when many people aren’t going to watch?
Pete Thamel at SI.com explains:
Blame the inevitable ratings drop, distinct inconvenience and lack of common sense on a parade. The Rose Bowl has a contract with ESPN through 2026 to show the game in the 5 p.m. ET slot. (The Tournament of Roses Parade is on New Year’s Day, so how could they ever change the game time?) The prime-time spot on New Year’s Day that follows belongs to the Sugar Bowl, with the SEC and Big 12 having a contract also through ’26. Both are for the preposterous price of $80 million per year, which is essentially so expensive that if ads ran for the entire time slot ESPN would still lose money. So, why did ESPN pay so much for games that will only be involved in the playoff every third year? Those around the process believe that buying these games gave ESPN an inside track on the playoff. And ESPN wasn’t losing the bidding war for the playoff, so it covered all the bases.
“It’s a balancing act,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said on Sunday. “If our interest was solely how do you maximize eyeballs and attention around the semi games, undoubtedly we’d have said the semi games every year are going to be 5:00 and 8:30 on New Year’s Day.”
And there’s this from Thamel:
ESPN pays $470 million annually to televise the playoff, and network executives admit the timing isn’t ideal. “New Year’s Eve is going to be a challenge,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN’s senior vice president for programming acquisitions. “That’s the part of the format that’s going to require a retraining of people’s behavior and fan’s behavior. You’re competing against real life and the ball dropping and New Year’s Eve parties.”
Yes, you are. So instead of two meaningful, win-or-go-home games on Jan. 1 next year, viewers will see two secondary games in those slots. That’s what the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl will become in the years they don’t stage a semifinal.
For the good of college football, the commissioners should have figured out a better solution. As naive as this sounds, it shouldn’t always be about the money.