Andy Hodges

New playoff dates see lower television ratings

Bill Hancock is trying to put his best spin on the television numbers from this year’s New Year’s 6 bowl games, but he isn’t convincing.

The head of the College Football Playoff is starting to sound like he actually may have gotten the idea from Larry Culpepper, who is claiming in commercials HE invented the whole thing.

Considering the drastic decline in television viewers (and overall drop of 13 percent), ol’ Larry might get some folks believing him. Of course, we don’t know yet whether he wanted to move the biggest games to New Year’s Eve or not.

“That decline, frankly, is not much of a surprise and it’s modest,” Hancock said after seeing the numbers.

Publicly, that’s about all he can say. As the executive director of the whole playoff committee, he’s the one driving the bus on everything except picking the teams. This is one little problem he can’t dump in Jeff Long’s lap.

“It’s too soon to know how much was due to the lopsided games or how much what I think we all thought would be an inevitable decline from the excitement of the first year or the semifinals on New Year’s Eve,” Hancock said. “I suspect it’s a combination of those three, but I don’t have any idea what the weighting is. ESPN is studying the numbers and we’ll learn a lot more in the next few months.”

Hancock has been steadfast in maintaining they will stick with the New Year’s Eve semifinals in some years, despite the fact we have seen it basically kill the ratings.

You wonder how long the playoff will let the Rose Bowl dictate what everybody else is going to do. That is exactly what happened this year.

ESPN wanted some of the games moved to Jan. 2 when there were no NFL games scheduled. The NFL, for the first time in ages, didn’t play any of the final weekend of games on Saturday. Some have said it’s because they didn’t want to lose audience to the college playoff games.

Now Hancock is stuck trying to put a good face on some bad numbers.

Overall, the ratings for the six major games played Thursday and Friday, including the semifinals in the Orange and Cotton bowls Thursday, averaged a 7.1 overnight rating, down from 8.2 last season, when the first playoff games drew record-breaking audiences to ESPN.

The Rose Bowl on Friday drew its lowest rating (7.9) since it became part of the BCS in 1999.

All three of Friday’s major bowls were blowouts. The Fiesta between Ohio State and Notre Dame, earned a 6.2 rating. That was up 35 percent from last season’s Arizona-Boise State game. The Buckeyes beat the Fighting Irish 44-28.

Stanford beat Iowa 45-16 in the Rose Bowl on Friday. The previously lowest-rated Rose Bowl since 1999 was the 2012 game between Stanford and Wisconsin, which drew a 9.4.

The Sugar Bowl, which Ole Miss won 48-20 against Oklahoma State, drew a 5.3 rating. That was the lowest Sugar Bowl since the Bowl Championship Series was established in 1999.

The blowouts didn’t help. Ratings drop when people tune in, see a blowout developing and decide they can still make it to that New Year’s Eve party, after all.

Last season’s College Football Playoff semifinals, played on New Year’s Day, drew a record number cable viewers, and ratings that edged past 15 for both the Oregon-Florida State Rose Bowl and the Ohio State-Alabama Sugar Bowl.

Total viewership for the semifinals played Thursday between Michigan State and Alabama in the Cotton Bowl and Clemson and Oklahoma in Orange Bowl plunged 34.4 percent, from 28,271,000 in 2015 to 18,552,000.

The one interesting wrinkle in this is that a bunch of folks still may have been watching, but not counted in the television viewer numbers.

With shrinking cable and satellite subscribers, ESPN rushed to get out the numbers of folks who were watching the game online and delayed.

ESPN did see sizeable increases in digital viewers who streamed the game online through WatchESPN. The New Year’s Six averaged 776,000 unique viewers and 43,871,000 total minutes for the six games, ESPN said Saturday. That’s up 54 percent and 67 percent from last year.

And Hancock — and you just have to love the guy for grabbing this nugget so quickly — jumped on that number like a kid who found the biggest present hiding behind the tree on Christmas morning.

Those annoying TV ads for half the football season about stars watching the games on mobile devices while heading out in their finest duds for fancy parties might have really worked.

“What that tells me is many, many fans found a new way to watch the games,” Hancock said.

You just have to love how quick he flipped that script.



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