Monday, January 17, 2011

Downturn in bowl viewership

Are there simply too many bowl games? There were a record 35 games over 24 days and many of the games featured uncompetitive matchups. The average margin of victory was 15.3 points, the highest in a bowl season since 1997. That made for lousy television ratings.

College football's bowl TV ratings were down 9 percent, according to an analysis of Nielsen Media Research data by the Birmingham News.

Twenty-three of the 33 returning bowls drew fewer viewers than a year ago, including the Champ Sports Bowl (West Virginia vs. North Carolina State). Among the 23 with a decline, 13 plummeted by at least 20 percent.

Two of the bowls that had an increase in viewership were the Outback (Penn State vs. Florida) and BBVA Compass (Pitt vs. Kentucky)

The data is for 34 games. Nielsen did not have rating numbers for the TicketCity Bowl because the game was on ESPNU.

This was the first year of ESPN's four-year deal to broadcast all Bowl Championship Series games and the move to cable impacted ratings. The five BCS games were down an average of 12 percent from last season and tied with 2007 for the BCS' lowest average rating. The move to cable cut off about 15 million homes that don't have cable or satellite.

This despite the BCS National Championship Game – Auburn's win over Oregon – being the highest-rated show in cable TV history. The BCS title game was watched by just more than 27.3 million viewers, which is about 5.5 million more than the previous all-time cable high - a 2009 MNF game between Green Bay and Minnesota. That's a huge number for ESPN. It smashed their previous best for college football.

However, as ratings for the title game were down 14 percent from last year's game between Texas and Alabama that aired on ABC. And the 2011 version of the BCS National Title Game was the fifth-lowest rated out of 13 national championship games.

There were ratings winners. The Outback Bowl featuring Florida and Penn State drew more than the Orange or Fiesta. The Insight Bowl, which was previously telecast by the NFL Network, moved to ESPN and saw a ratings spike of 460 percent.

You can click on each chart for a larger view.


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