The NFL might be evil, devious and even tone-deaf sometimes, but it’s never stupid. The one thing The Shield would never do is pissing off the masses by making its products inaccessible.
It’s the exact opposite approach the College Football Playoff has taken.
Never mind that the CFP is still very much in its infancy, having just concluded its second season. It’s acting like it’s been around for 100 years and everyone should just do what they’re told.
The CFP’s power brokers decided that it’s a good idea to hold their semifinal playoff games on New Year’s Eve, a workday, no less. This despite an open Saturday on Jan. 2 when the playoff games could’ve been held with no competition. But no, the poobahs decreed that they wanted to start a “new tradition.”
The fans responded by not watching. The playoff games experienced a near 40 percent drop in TV ratings, a loss CFP executive director Bill Hancock tried to spin as “moderate” (translation: catastrophic). The championship game likewise was dragged down, with a 25 percent drop in audience numbers from a year ago despite being a thrilling contest.
ESPN, which begged the CFP to move this year’s playoff games to Jan. 2 as a one-time exception, ended up paying for CFP’s tone-deaf decision, having to reimburse advertisers a $20 million giveback on ads in future programming. And things won’t improve considerably next year as the semifinals will again take place on New Year’s Eve.
But we’ll go a step further – CFP’s problem isn’t just with these New Year’s Eve playoff games, it starts with its relationship with ESPN.
CFP signed a 12-year, $7.3 billion deal to have all of its games – playoffs and all “New Year’s Six Bowls” televised exclusively by ESPN through the 2025-26 season. But the association dated back really to 2010, when the Bowl Championship Series – the CFP predecessor – switched from Fox to ESPN for the final four years of BCS’s existence.
For the first time since its 1952 game became the first televised college football game, the Rose Bowl in 2011 was carried only on cable. All BCS games, as well as a vast majority of the bowl games, were exclusively on ESPN and its networks. Thus began the virtual monopoly of the Worldwide Leader has over college football.
While ESPN offered top dollar for the most desirable college football games, the decision to dump broadcast networks proved to be short-sighted – especially at a time when there were considerable warning signs about the health of the cable industry. Sure enough, cord-cutting went from speculation to a fast and furious phenomenon.
This month, for the first time since September 2007, the cable TV households in the U.S. fell below the 100 million mark. The pay-TV industry has lost 5.6 million homes in 4 1/2 years and its biggest loser is ESPN, which has lost 8.7 million homes in that same time span. Today, it’s in just 91.4 million homes, compared to 116.4 million homes with broadcast TV.
Yep, that’s 25 million households (with more to join their ranks) no longer having access to college football. But you know what they’re watching? The NFL.
Hate The Shield all you want, but Roger Goodell and the owners of that league are shrewd businesspeople. The NFL is the only pro sports league where every game in a team’s home market is always on broadcast TV. It’s also the only league where every playoff game is on free TV.
Even though ESPN has the rights to one of the wild card games this season, the NFL demanded that it was also broadcast on ABC. While Disney-owned ESPN monopolizes college football, the NFL would never allow that as its TV rights are spread across all four major broadcast networks as well as DirecTV for the Sunday Ticket package.
College football could’ve had all this. It could’ve stayed on broadcast TV and made a better decision about when and where to showcase its most important games. But its powerbrokers went for the cash grab and acted with arrogance and contempt toward its customers.
And the customers have responded by casting their eyes elsewhere.
SEC Rakes In the Cash: But there is one very shrewd businessman in college football. His name is Mike Slive.
The now retired SEC commissioner made $3.6 million in 2014, his final full season before retiring in July 2015. And he earned every penny of it.
In that same fiscal year the SEC made a record $527.4 million, representing a 60 percent increase over the previous fiscal year when each of the 14 SEC member school received $32.7 million from the conference. When factoring inflation, the SEC saw its revenue increase by 222 percent over the last seven years, all under Slive’s administration, which began in 2002.
The Dartmouth-educated attorney and former athletic director at Cornell who worked for the Pac-10 as an assistant executive director at one time, certainly earned his retirement.