NCAA Leaves Money on Table with Football Semi-Finals

NCAA Football RatingsThe college football national championship between Alabama and Clemson was played on Monday. And despite my disdain for the fact that the NCAA makes so much money off these college athletes without giving them a paycheck, I’m going to talk about how the NCAA is costing itself money–while of course, still screwing other people in the process. But rest assure, this is not a sports piece. It’s a piece on how stances of principle are much easier to make when the financial ground on which you stand is solid tight.

The championship game got a 14.7 rating last night, leading all cable programming on a Monday night that had some decent competition. Yet despite it’s lead, the game was down 19% from last year.

But that’s not the worst of it. I want to go back to over a week ago, when the TV audience for college football was much worse than what we expected–or at least worse than what the NCAA expected.

This past New Year’s Eve, a Thursday no less, I spent my day working. Technically, my employer (Google) had given its employees the day off, but as I prepared for a major test at work, I wanted to get some additional studying time in during a relatively slow period workwise.

And how did you spend your Thursday? If you’re like the majority of Americans, you were working too, because only 31% of employees report getting New Year’s Eve completely off, with only another 19% reporting that their employers “closed early.”

And when you got off work on New Year’s Eve, what did you do? Did you race home to watch the remaining quarters in the first of the NCAA football semi-final matches, or like almost everyone else ages 18-49 (the demo advertisers care about) were you getting your house, apartment, or mind right for some sort of New Year’s celebration?

I know what I did–and it didn’t involve watching the semi-finals. And look, I’m a pretty big sports fans. In my increasing age, I’m not the “I have to see everything” guy that I used to be, but I’m well above average in my thirst for sports, and on your typical Saturday night in February, you very well could find me on a couch watching the New York Knicks get pummeled by Team X. But with closing out my studying for the day, communicating with folks about my New Year’s Eve plans, and then actually getting ready for said New Year’s Eve plans, I wasn’t going to squeeze in two, laborious football games that are essentially drummed up drama for men (albeit, an argument can be made that sports is just that–soap opera for men).

And apparently, I wasn’t the only above average sports fan that decided they had better things to do on New Year’s Eve, because 40% of last year’s audience opted not to watch these games either. Of course, it should almost go without saying that last year’s semi-finals round was not played on New Year’s Eve. It was played on New Year’s Day–a day when people have a holiday specifically to cure their hangovers in front of a television. And yet, the NCAA officials refused to have the semi-finals moved to New Year’s Day, because they made some promises to a couple of bowls that their games could be played on certain days of the calendar year. And during the remaining 10 or so years on the NCAA’s contract with ESPN, the semi-finals are slated to land on New Year’s Eve 7 times.

Knowing that, advertisers, along with the Houdini 40% that vanished this year, will be sure to opt out of next year’s broadcast. And the fact that the championship game didn’t do well, already doesn’t bode well for ESPN’s ability to sell against a high rating for any of next year’s NCAA football tournament. Then again, all of this could be fixed if the NCAA just gave in, worked with the bowls they made some crappy promises to, and let ESPN air the games on New Year’s Day, when they have a much better chance of people being at home long enough to watch some part of a 7-hour gridiron feud between amateurs. But if the NCAA won’t negotiate with athletes that struggle to eat, pay bills and get by healthfully under the watch of the their organization, then why would they abandon a world and system that just won’t fall apart?

We shouldn’t let ESPN off the hook either…not that they need to be let off. Surely, ESPN was well aware of the scheduling issue, and they definitely factored lower ratings for 7 out of 10 years into their decision to buy the NCAA football tournament–if not also factoring it into the actual price they paid. And if they did factor these lower ratings into their price, that means the NCAA left money on the table.

Obviously, I could care less that the remora fish that is the NCAA isn’t making top dollar. But as a media enthusiast, I find it incredibly lazy that they’d be so careless to not optimize the full value of their product. This just demonstrates that the NCAA is making so much money that they can afford to take these ridiculous stands on the basis “principle”. And yet, somehow, with so much money flowing out of their pockets that they can’t be bothered to pick up a hundred-dollar bill off the shaky ground on which they stand, the NCAA refuses to figure out a way to pay their athletes. Instead, they choose to stand on “principle”…only in this instance, the ground’s not just shaky, it’s falling apart.

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