The Real Reason We're Talking Playoffs Comment Count

Brian February 29th, 2012 at 10:13 AM

The BCS is now talking about a four team playoff and even Jim Delany is in. This is sort of about declining attendance (but not really), sort of about declining viewership (indirectly) and 1000% about this graph from a Neilsen "State of the Media" report on sports.

First, basketball:


And then football:


Both the big basketball increase and big football decrease can be explained by external events. CBS finally realized it was the 18th century and split first-round games across four channels instead of forcing you to watch Local State U beat up on a 15 seed when Kansas (always Kansas) is suffering an incredible upset across the country. The BCS moved off broadcast to cable. But when paired with declining interest, the cavern between postseason formats screams "grit your teeth and do something literally everyone else wants."

BONUS: Nielsen lists the five most-watched games of the year:


1 vs 2 games, the Rose Bowl, the 3 vs 4 Fiesta, and random Michigan games not featuring awesome teams.

[HT: a message board!]



February 29th, 2012 at 10:30 AM ^

Love seeing the UM games on the top list- especially during hte season.

Under the lights ND was a great idea for revenue and appeal!

20 million for the 1st LSU Bama game- that's nuts- only 4 million more for Championship.  Pretty clear everyone was thinking that first game was the championship with that many viewers


Victor Hale II

February 29th, 2012 at 11:14 AM ^

I wonder what the BCS title game numbers would have been if Ok. St. had gotten in as opposed to Bama.  I know I would have actually watched it instead of going to bed right about the time that it started.  What a crappy way to end another great college football season. 

His Dudeness

February 29th, 2012 at 12:06 PM ^

My answer is a bit of both. Pissed about the 2006 coverage stating it should never happen then it did. Also the game was going to be a big defensive poop fest which I really do hate in football in general. I like defense, but not when two get together and fight over the 50 for 3 hours... zzzzzzzz. I actually didn't go to bed but I didn't watch a single snap and I am perfectly fine with that. College Football is my number one sport as a fan as well.


February 29th, 2012 at 12:12 PM ^

i didn't watch either game. i really don't care who the best team in the SEC is unless i get to find out who the best team in the country is, too. i get all my ncaa football coverage from michigan blogs, as i can't stand watching espn talking heads anymore, so i don't know any of the players in the SEC either. it's truly lack of interest.


February 29th, 2012 at 3:43 PM ^

I watched the two BCS games on New Year's day and the Sugar Bowl (0f course).  The problem with the Orange and MNC games this year was they were so far out from New Year's Day that I was busy.  It's easier to carve out time during the holidays.  Once the year starts back up, I really can only carve out designated time for Michigan and a few other high profile games.  Everything else I watch is if I happen not to be busy.


February 29th, 2012 at 10:41 AM ^

My Michigan degree seems to be failing me - it looks like there are more than 5 most-watched games.  Then again, I transferred from Engin school to LSA so what do I know.


Other than that, interesting post.  Makes a strong economic case for a playoff or at least expanding the season.


February 29th, 2012 at 10:44 AM ^

What is surprising is that the changes they’re contemplating are extremely modest: adding just two new semi-final games, and upping the bowl-eligibility floor to 7 wins, which will eliminate a number of minor, meaningless bowls involving 6-6 teams.

It will not change the fact that the bowls are just exhibition games with nothing at stake, and that the vast majority of them are not especially interesting, except to fans of the two schools that are playing.

We already know that money determines most of the big decisions in collegiate athletics. But when you look at the amount of money to be made, the plans that are coming out are surprisingly timid.


February 29th, 2012 at 10:49 AM ^

I disagree that there's nothing at stake.  I'll agree with the rest of your assessment of bowl games involving 6-6 teams, but many teams count on/benefit from/hope for the extra weeks of practices.  If you think about it, it really shortens the time off between bowls and Spring ball.  The benefit is a better product on the field, if not during the bowl, but moreso the following year.  I think there's some advantages to it that aren't obvious beyond the money aspect.


February 29th, 2012 at 10:46 AM ^

forcing you to watch Local State U beat up on a 15 seed when Kansas (always Kansas) is suffering an incredible upset across the country

I can confirm this statement is true.

But I don't think Michigan v. ND UTL should count as Random Michigan game, but point taken.

Zone Left

February 29th, 2012 at 1:38 PM ^

I don't know that a Michigan game starting after 3:30 EST is a huge deal for the rest of the country. It does show the interest Michigan and Notre Dame drive even when neither are supposed to be that good.

The rest of the report is pretty interesting. The average game involving a Big 10 team had almost 3.3 million viewers. The SEC averaged almost 4.5(!) million viewers. There's huge potential in viewership for the popular schools.


March 1st, 2012 at 8:30 AM ^

I wonder how much the LSU-Alabama matchup skewed those results, though.  Take that game out and the UTL game out, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Big 10 comes out equal or ahead.  As others noted below, the buildup to that SEC matchup was like no other.  The nonstop repetition by virtually every ESPN analyst about how great these teams were, how great the SEC is, blah, blah, blah.  No other conference of regular season game got even a 10th of the blather that went on about that game.


February 29th, 2012 at 10:54 AM ^

Will a four team playoff be enough of a draw to demand those kind of advertising dollars?  I'm assuming advertisers are willing to spend so much on NCAA Tournament time because of all the casual sports and even non sports fans that tune in for those games. 

Edit:  Any idea how the ads are structured for the bball tournament?  I'm not in advertising, but it seems that if they span the entire two plus weeks of solid coverage, that would be a pretty effective campaign.  Would you get the same for an extra two weeks of college football with only three games?


February 29th, 2012 at 11:11 AM ^

You may be right.  But would there be the same hype for the first round as the championship?  I also know that I'll watch the championship just because it's the championship.  I don't know if I can say the same if it's Florida State against Boise State in a four team playoff.  I don't know the answer.  I guess the conference commissioners will figure it out for us.


February 29th, 2012 at 11:00 AM ^

Name the best sporting event

If that question is asked you are likely to get one of the following answers:


World Cup

Super Bowl

March Madness

The first is because of the plethora of sports and the drama and the medals and the patriotism- hard to compete with the sheer volume of the Olympics

World Cup and March Madness are very similar.  You have big underdogs with amazing victories, you have huge upsets, and you have crazy passion

Super Bowl is just reflecting media attention and the huge popularity of the NFL

No one would say NCAA football championship.  If any college football it is regualr season rivalries (OSU-UM, Bama-Auburn etc.) or classic bowls that have tradition.

NCAA Championship has no tradition.  Fans love tournaments.  Fans love college football.  I never have understood why increasing the number of post-season games (other bowls would still happen outside of the tournament), while adding drama, and increasing hugely the number of teams (and thus fans) who are competing for a championship.

The championship game got a lot of fans to watch- because fans like champions.  College B-ball is about declaring a champion for each and every game- fans love the drama and the dream that their team has a shot.

There really needs to be a tournament for all these reasons- and yes- those charts show that.



February 29th, 2012 at 11:10 AM ^

If they don't do something about this dumb polling process (the method they use to rank these teams in the first place) it doesn't matter if they have a playoff or not.  Garbage in = Garbage out regardless of what the "out" looks like.


February 29th, 2012 at 11:17 AM ^

I'm curious if performance of the BCS Championship game compared to the other games in this year was inline with its performance in prior years. I would also be interested in comparing the various bowl games head to head from year to year. 

Did the BCS Championship under peform because it was a rematch? Were all the bowl games down by a comparable amount or did some under perform because of match ups? Etc.

Bowl revenue dropped to under half of the preceding year, it is hard to see how adding a couple of playoff games will make that up.


February 29th, 2012 at 11:17 AM ^

I think that's still 8-10 years away, but they'll get there. And when they do, the amount of money coming in through the TV contracts alone is going to be so ginormous that the entities that have been dragging their feet on it—the schools and the NCAA—are going to smack themselves on the forehead and collectively say, "Why didn't we do this before?"

Whether the impacts of an 8-team playoff will be good or bad for the supposed student-athletes is a different question, but the money will be ridiculous, as will be the TV ratings.


February 29th, 2012 at 11:20 AM ^

The problem with suggesting that a football playoff would generate that kind of revenue is this:

- 67-team basketball tournament: about 167.5 hours of programming (games only.)

- 4-team football tournament: about 10.5 hours of programming (games only.)

And of the revenue gained in the football tournament, maybe half of it will just be carryover revenue from existing bowl games.


February 29th, 2012 at 12:41 PM ^

I really think less is more.  If you have too many teams in a playoff scenario, it devalues winning your conference and becomes a logistiical nightmare.  In my wildest imagination I cannot see a 16 team playoff, nor can I envision just how you would televise eight games in a weekend.  Eight teams is a stretch, but workable and I can live just fine with four teams with games being played at the home fields of the top two teams. 

His Dudeness

February 29th, 2012 at 12:02 PM ^

Kansas Basketball haunted my brackets all through college. I bet them to win it all every year it was within reason. Then I said "Fuck you Kansas I do this myself" and then they inexplicably beat the D-Rose Memphis team. I hate Kansas Basketball as much as I used to love them. I will never bet them to win it all again which obviously means they will go on a UCLA-like winning streak from now until the rest of time.

"It's always Kansas" is such a great line. That should be on a t-shirt. It really is always Kansas that makes everyone go "Oh shit WHY DO I HAVE THEM IN MY FINAL FOUR??! WHY?!?!"


February 29th, 2012 at 12:04 PM ^

But will they sell new uniforms for each game?  I bought a Under the Lights special edition uniform and a Sugar Bowl special edition uniform.  Will I buy a Playoff Round 1 special edition uniform and a Playoff Round 2 special edition uniform?

IMO - football is not as well suited for playoffs because of the higher chance of player injuries and the longer amount of recovery time needed between games.  Also post-season time for football is mid-dec to early january - if it extends any longer, then you're really eating away at winter break (and if its earlier then you're eating into finals time).  Playoffs require the particular teams to be on their A-game the whole time, whereas if you have a bowl, it's one and done.  Play your bowl, then go home and watch the rest on tv with your family.


March 2nd, 2012 at 1:57 PM ^

How do you figure football is not suited for playoffs? It seems to work at all other levels of football, including the FCS, Division 2, and Division 3. I think those athletes would have something to say about being on their A-Game for the duration of those playoffs. Personally I feel that corportate greed is more to blame for why we haven't seen the advent of a playoff in the FBS. Bowls are a complete boon to the organizer's pocket books, and why would they want to give up their cash cow... err "ruin tradition." Let's stop pretending that the reason we don't have a playoff is becuase of the athletes or their health, or because of breaks (do they even have breaks during bowl season for these athletes?). It comes down to money, plain and simple.

Now I agree, we don't need to get crazy and have a huge 16 team playoff or anything like that, and add another 4 weeks to the season. But I think there's a way we can work within the given calendar and instill a little more integrity into the system while maintaining a high level of play.


February 29th, 2012 at 12:14 PM ^

A 4 team playoff makes the other bowls games even more meaningless than they are now. Creating a BCS championshig game instantly devalued the other major bowl games, which decreased interest in them. Having two of the major bowls now be defacto playoff games will decrease the interest and ad money even further in all the other bowls. They will not gain in ad dollars for the 4 team playoff what they will contunue to lose in the other bowl games, which now have even less reason for being.

/law of unintended consequences.

*worse in the interest and ad dollar sense, not necessarily in the finding the best championshig game sense.


February 29th, 2012 at 4:31 PM ^

How do you figure that it'll drive down less interest in the other games? IMO the interest would stay the same for the other games... The outcome of any other bowl game, doesn't affect the NC game currently, so why would adding a 4 team playoff make any difference? It seems to me, based on those viewership numbers that people are still watching... why would they stop because of the playoff?

Fanbases are still going to support their teams regardless, whether they're inside or outside of the 4 team playoff. Are you not going to watch Michigan in the Sugar Bowl becuase there's now a 4 team playoff that you're not involved in? Absolutely not! You'll be watching the game, screaming your lungs out like you always would.

The only difference now is that you're now talking about 3 games, all near the same level of excitement as the NC. In the end, I can only see this as a benefit (to both viewership and in dollars), you're energizing 4 fanbases and ensuring that those 4 fanbases will be involved in watching all those games - not only to see if your team wins, but who you're going to play when you do.


February 29th, 2012 at 7:29 PM ^

the facts as they are now. The other BCS bowls have declined in both ratings and interest in the modern BCS era. That's factual (at least the ratings part is). Once a championship game came into being, the other BCS bowls, while the most prestigious still, lost something--because in the old era, when only votes counted, there was always a couple of those games, sometimes more, that had an actual bearing on who would be voted MNC. Now everyone involved knows they have no chance, because the title game winner is guaranteed.

And of course fans of the teams involved will always be interested, but we are talking about ratings and fan interest nationally, not within each teams fan base.

The new playoff games will be huge--that's my point. If say two of the current 4 BCS bowl games are the playoff games--the other two, except for the teams fans involved, are complete afterthoughts.


March 2nd, 2012 at 1:44 PM ^

With that comment, I think you and I are trying to say the same thing. But you're right in a certain regard with the playoff, the advent of the BCS has definitely hurt viewership. All games are essentially meaningless outside of the NC. As long as we have the BCS we'll never have the same viewership as we once did... but that being said, we're never going back to the old way. We can only hope for a system that includes enough meaninful games (without diluting a playoff with too many games) to increase viewership to prevoious levels and reach new heights.

Mr. Yost

February 29th, 2012 at 12:49 PM ^

I've always wanted an 8-team Playoff...but f-it.

This shows we at least need to get to a 4-Team playoff

We could've played both games on Dec 30th or 31st and still had the National Championship Game on Jan 10th.

The one BCS Bowl that doesn't host a game gets the BCS #5 vs. #6 and they could've played the week between New Years Day and the the NC Game.

Everyone else plays in a bowl just like normal.

Until we figure out a better system...I don't understand why this can't be in effect. The season isn't any longer, there is plenty of rest from Conf. Championship games. It's not adding ONE single game to the schedule.

Just do it until we all can agree on something better.


February 29th, 2012 at 12:55 PM ^

The basketball tournament also has a large gambling history associated with it, so people who would never watch a college basketball game are filling out their brackets and tuning in. Not all the bets are for money either (sadly my wife has bragging rights this year). Would a four team football playoff (or eight) generate even close to this kind of attention?


February 29th, 2012 at 1:15 PM ^

I don't think the gambling would be the same as the basketball brackets.  Rather, it would be a points system based on the spreads. 

I.e., if Michigan is favored against OSU by 7 points, you would have to vote for which team would win and by +/- whatever you think the point differential would be.  Therefore, the pools of people can play and the winners would be differentiated based upon their bets on the spread - e.g., closest to right on the money would win.


February 29th, 2012 at 2:03 PM ^

Boiled down: you can't fool the public. They'll watch something they know has meaning and is an event. Bowl games, with only a couple exceptions, don't have enough meaning for enough people.  

A playoff system is always going to create games the public considers to be more meaningful. Football tried to get cute for years and dance around a playoff by calling bowls "BCS Bowls". 

They aren't fooling people anymore and they need to tap the money they are losing with the current system. 

The viewing public is the big winner.


February 29th, 2012 at 2:31 PM ^

Just as evident in this data is the differential in regular season ad revenue. Winner: Football.

Also, there is only so much ad space in a given season, so how many more basketball games are there than football? Using quantitative numbers instead of percentages is misleading.

C'mon, where are all the math majors at?


February 29th, 2012 at 3:28 PM ^

It makes me laugh when I hear about four team playoffs.  There will be so many people crying foul that I will eventually get expanded to eight teams.  And it will not be limited to just conference champions.  There will always be weaker conferences and down years.  The truth that not all conferences are created equal is a truth obvious to all.   I don't see it growing beyond eight teams.  I could easily see something like a 4+2 where the top two ranked conference champs get a buy and then the next top two ranked conference champs and two wild card teams play off for the other two spots.  And then you simply scrap all the remaining bowl games. 


February 29th, 2012 at 3:53 PM ^

I used to love when 2 - 4 bowls could actually be influencing the voted on National Champion.  Fans of teams ranked as low as 5 - 6 watched New Year's Day hoping the right scenario of wins and loses would influence voters to vote their team MNC.

As long as polls and rankings are going to influence who gets to play for what, this was the perfect model.  Too bad fans didn't realize it and clamored for a "definitive answer" to who is #1. 

This chart is further proof of why Conference Commissioners do not want to do anything to detract from the regular season in football.


February 29th, 2012 at 7:54 PM ^

The old days of which you speak totally sucked.  It was worse than now.  Under the old "system," which wasn't really a system, the championship was completely determined by the inscrutable and arbitrary criteria of the polls.  There weren't even any computer rankings or strength-of-schedule algorithms factored in, it was just a total free-for-all by the voters. 

As bad as the current BCS system is, at least if you finish in the top 2 then you get to play for the championship head-to-head.  Expanding that to the top 4 is a step in the right direction.  Going back to the old beauty pageant approach would be retrograde.