TV Ratings Up for NCAA Bowl Games

The TV ratings for NCAA bowl games were released this week.  I wish that these ratings numbers were available every year.  Overall, the ratings were up 8%, which is consistent with the idea that consumers undertake less expensive leisure activities, like watching more TV, during economic downturns.  That increase is good for ESPN, who broadcasts that lions share of the games.  Some other interesting patterns emerge from the ratings:

  1. Ratings for all the BCS games were up substantially, except for the Fiesta Bowl.  The BCS title game was up 9%, suggesting that the BCS system is popular with many football fans. The TV ratings increase stands in sharp contrast with the critics of the BCS system, who complain that it’s a bad system.  If the BCS was a bad system, it would generate lower TV ratings.  Note that I am not saying that the BCS system is superior to a playoff system – just that TV viewers seem to like the BCS system.
  2. About that Fiesta Bowl, which matched TCU and Boise State.  -21% relative to the 2009 Fiesta Bowl between Ohio State and Texas.   Ouch.  That underscores why the BCS may be reluctant to expand participation.  The likely effect is to reduce TV ratings, which could lead to lower rights fees in the long run.
  3. Other big losers include the Poinsettia Bowl (-25%), the Hawaii Bowl (-35%), the Music City Bowl (-29%), and the International Bowl (-39%).  Those declines are probably a result of less attractive match-ups and scheduling quirks, including other bowls scheduled at the same time.
  4. The big increases were for the Texas Bowl (+2,000%), the Orange Bowl (+26%), the Alamo Bowl (+23%), the Chick-fil-A Bowl (+24%), the Liberty Bowl (+65%) , the Outback Bowl (+30%), the Sun Bowl (+50%), and the Independence (nee Weedeater) Bowl (+150%).  The Texas Bowl went from the NFL Network last year to ESPN this year.  That tells you all you need to know about how many people get, and watch, the NFL Network.  The Match-up for the Independence Bowl last year was Louisiana Tech vs. Northern Illinois.  This year it was Texas A&M vs. Georgia.  Again, those pesky BCS people know what they are doing when they limit participation. The potential TV audience for teams in BCS conferences, even middle of the pack BCS conference teams, is much larger than for non-BCS conference teams.

Critics often claim that there are too many bowl games.  I don’t think that the 2009-2010 TV ratings support that idea.  If there were too many bowl games, viewership would be down for the lower tier games.  But bowls like the St. Petersburg Bowl and the Independence Bowl had sizable increases in viewership, and the two bowls with the lowest viewership had the same TV ratings as last year.

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