Hot Reads: Brunchtime Is the New Primetime for College Football?
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Hot Reads: Brunchtime Is the New Primetime for College Football?

May 16, 2019

Remember how two-thirds of Nebraska's games in 2018 were at 11 a.m.? Turns out that maybe that wasn't punishment for starting 0-6, but preparation for when the Huskers are good again and command top billing.

At least top billing as far as Fox is concerned as it was reported this week that the network plans to make that 11 a.m. time slot its marquee spot in 2019.

This is somewhat counterintuitive. Brunchtime does not have the same ring to it as primetime. We've been conditioned to believe that night games are "big" games because, well, in terms of TV ratings they typically are.

But Fox, which shares Big Ten rights with ESPN/ABC, is trying to do a bit of disrupting here. If you're just a neutral observer, it will be sort of interesting to see how this plays out from a ratings perspective.

This being college football, however, almost nobody involved is a neutral observer. Sportswriters like the 11 a.m. slot because it makes for a fairly standard day––get to the stadium around 8 a.m., cover the game and, if nothing goes wrong, get home at a reasonable time. But most fans I talk to to would put the 11 a.m. kickoff at the bottom of the list of preferred times. It's tough if you're coming from more than a couple of hours away, cuts into tailgating and the vibe can be a little sleepy at times. Those are all valid concerns, but especially so at a place like Nebraska which is fortunate to be one of the places where people still actually go to games.

But the days when TV wasn't the driving force in this sport were long ago. The Big Ten reported $759 million in revenue for 2018, and that's not because of football attendance. So Fox gets to do what it wants.

Why does it want to put the best game it can get each week at 11 a.m.? The prevailing theory is that Fox, which is launching a revamped pregame show, wants to compete with ESPN's College GameDay. That's an interesting play. Back when I was an avid GameDay watcher (and Nebraska was still in the Big 12), it always was sort of a letdown to go from the antics and anticipation of GameDay straight to, say, Bloomington, Indiana, for Hoosiers-Illini.

Does knowing that you want to watch Penn State-Ohio State at 11 a.m. on Fox prompt you to just turn on Fox a few hours early? We'll see. GameDay is pretty firmly entrenched at this point, but I guess a network looking to hack away at that advantage will never know unless it tries.

It'll take some getting used to for college football fans. You glance at Nebraska's schedule, see that Sept. 28 visit from Ohio State and just assume that'll be a night game. And it probably will be unless Fox has first pick that week. Then it might be a brunchtime battle with the Buckeyes.

Nebraska will at least be used to it. Troy, Michigan, Northwestern, Bethune-Cookman, Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan State and Iowa were all 11 a.m. games a year ago. The Huskers, who do practice in the mornings, went 3-5 in those games.

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