Prior to Nov. 8, it was easy to get the impression that the greatest signal of a changing world this fall was the NFL’s declining rating. I could probably spend the rest of the day just compiling links to trend stories on this topic alone, but I won’t. If you want to read something on declining NFL TV ratings, here’s the best piece of commentary I read on the topic.
My general sense of all of those stories I didn’t link was that the election was the common culprit for the NFL’s ratings woes. People were watching the unconventional run up to Election Day rather than Monday Night Football or something like that. I don’t know if I ever fully bought it, but I hope the internet enjoyed a couple of months off from being the reason everything is terrible now.
The question nobody seemed to be asking through all of that, however, was if NFL ratings were down, why was college football strolling along with its ratings mostly unaffected?
Emily Kaplan of Sports Illustrated asked that question this week and spoke with a couple of TV executives to try and get an answer. Per the story, college football’s year-to-year ratings were up 22 percent in the first week of the season, a ratings bump that has slowly declined over the weeks to a point where viewers across all of the Nielsen-rated networks are basically flat compared to last year.
That’s still better than down, so what gives?
Fox Sports Mike Mulvihill offered the following explanation:
Aside from the election, Mulvihill points to another popular rationale for why NFL viewership had suffered: absence of stars. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning had been powerful drivers of viewerships for more than a decade, and both were missing for the first four weeks. College football, by model, introduces us to new stars each year. In fact, in most cases it’s the longtime coaches (Dabo, Harbaugh, Miles, Saban, Urban) who attract cult followings.
Ehhh, that one’s not totally working for me. Is the average non-Patriots fan basing his or her decision to watch or not watch a New England game on whether or not Tom Brady is available? Maybe, I guess, but I’d be really surprised if that were a real, measurable trend.
ESPN’s exec did a little better in my opinion:
Artie Bulgrin, ESPN’s Senior Vice President of Global Research and Analytics, cites college football’s new postseason format (every game matters more) and more total college football teams and corresponding fan bases as reasons college football was better equipped to weather the election cycle.
Who knows if Bulgrin used the exact phrase “every game matters more,” but assuming a similar sentiment was expressed there’s some irony there. Wasn’t the playoff supposed to do exactly the opposite? Wasn’t a four-team playoff going to ruin the 12-week playoff that already was college football? That was always the anti-playoff line, but now its stabilizing ratings?
I’m not totally convinced that’s the reason either. The phrase “every game matters more” makes me uncomfortable. You could convince me, maybe, that “more games matter more” because more teams are in the hunt longer but Toledo-Akron is still Toledo-Akron.
The corresponding fan bases thing, however, feels like a real answer. There are plenty of people who are passionate about their local NFL team, and plenty more are passionate about teams in cities hundreds of miles away.
But Clemson fans? Or Michigan fans? Or [insert school here] fans? At least a portion of every fan base is made up of graduates of the university. They are directly connected to the team they support and each university is turning out thousands more of those each year. They spread out around the country and, because every Power 5 game at least is basically a national TV game at this point, provide an expansive base for stable rankings.
I can buy that. Good answer, Bulgrin.
Will the Huskers Face Les Miles in 2017?
Purdue athletic director Mike Bobinski is reportedly hoping to have the Boilermakers’ next football coach in place before the traditional end-of-year feeding frenzy begins. Seems like a great timeline for hiring Les Miles.
From the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel:
All indications are that Les Miles, the former LSU coach, has talked with Purdue officials.
Greg Olson has jumped into Boiler view after the Sporting News reported that the former NFL offensive coordinator, and a former Purdue assistant coach under Joe Tiller, has been interviewed.
Then comes the speculation carousel — Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck, Western Kentucky’s Jeff Brohm, Youngstown State’s Bo Pelini, Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, Ohio State offensive coordinator Greg Schiano, North Dakota State’s Chris Klieman, Montana’s Bob Stitt and LSU interim head coach Ed Orgeron.
That speculation carousel is fun — Bob Stitt, please — but if Purdue is really looking to have a coach in place shortly after the regular season ends, you can probably scratch a lot of names off that list. I don’t think P.J. Fleck is entertaining overtures from Purdue right now. Ed Orgeron is still trying to win his way to the LSU job.
No the timeline here seems to suggest its Miles or Olson. For sheer entertainment and buzz, let it be Miles.
The Grab Bag
- Love this story: Wake Forest believes Louisville may have ended up with its game plan last week because a Wake Forest staffer found a copy of plays it had never run prior to last Saturday left behind by the Louisville coaches.
- Maryland football players Lorenzo Harrison and DJ Turner, both of whom were suspended indefinitely last week, have been charged with second-degree assault and reckless endangerment after allegedly shooting students with BB guns on campus.
- This is news to me but the Stanford band has been banned from traveling to away games for a year-plus now?
- Insider link, but really interesting read if you can get to it: West Virginia has adopted a “no Texas” recruiting model. It’s not that the Mountaineers won’t go down there, but they’re not devoting major resources to the Lone Star State.
- ICYMI: Nebraska volleyball looked pretty darn dominant in its win over No. 15 Penn State last night. (Story, Photos)
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.