Most college bowl games are tackled for a loss
Moving sports from broadcast TV to cable often means a bigger paycheck for the rights holder, but it doesn't always mean bigger ratings for the buyer.
That's what happened to Walt Disney Co's. ESPN this year.
Several big college bowl games moved from their broadcast homes to ESPN and had disappointing ratings compared with those of 2010. For example, the Rose Bowl's audience dropped 14% to about 20.6 million, compared with the 24 million that tuned in to the game on ABC in 2010. The Fiesta Bowl's audience fell 22% to 10.8 million from the 13.8 million that watched it on Fox last year.
The biggest dip in viewership belongs to the Capital One Bowl. In 2010, 11.6 million watched Penn State beat LSU. This year, only 6 million watched Alabama beat Michigan State, a decline of almost 50%. The Orange, Fiesta and Sugar bowls also lost viewers.
Conversely, the Outback Bowl, which moved from ESPN to ABC, had huge growth. On ESPN, the 2010 game averaged about 5.7 million viewers. Last Saturday, the game got 12.4 million to watch, a jump of almost 120%.
ESPN said the lower numbers have more to do with the games themselves than they do with their new home on cable. An ESPN spokesman noted that the Gator Bowl (which lost 56% of its viewers on ESPN in 2011 vs. CBS in 2010) and the Capital One Bowl were both blowouts.
"We are very happy, particularly considering matchups and results," the spokesman said.
Indeed, the matchups do play a part. While the 2011 Sugar Bowl was off compared with 2010, its numbers were better than what Fox averaged in 2008 and 2009. ESPN's coverage of the 2011 Orange Bowl also scored more viewers than the 2009 Orange Bowl did.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: TCU celebrates its Rose Bowl win. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times