College football ratings declined in 2010. CBS viewership dropped 4.5 percent, ABC dropped 10.3 percent and BCS dropped 12.5 percent. ESPN stayed even, though the Deuce dropped 10 percent. Versus was the only network that saw an increase of 50 percent. What does this mean? College football may be losing juice with casual viewers.
The national networks being hit harder while ESPN stayed even, suggests the core audience is still watching college football while casual viewership may be dropping. With ever increasing entertainment options available, ratings will decline. To bring in the non-devoted audience, games need national relevance or name-brand programs. That’s reflected in the viewing habits.
National relevance sells. Of the top ten games, three featured Alabama, No. 1 at the beginning of the season. Three featured Auburn when they were gunning for the title game. One featured Oregon. ESPN’s largest audiences for their Saturday Night games came when No.1 Alabama played Penn State and No. 1 Ohio State travelled to Wisconsin. CBS, showing the persistently relevant SEC, had the smallest decline of the major networks. Versus, suddenly televising nationally relevant Pac 10 and MWC games had an enormous increase in viewership.
The Big Ten, the ACC, the Big 12 and the Big East were eliminated from the national title discussion fairly early. Their ratings declined accordingly. The four conferences combined for only one of the Top Ten rated games. That was the Big 12 Title Game, with no competitor on a national network. Having Boise State and Virginia Tech play a season-killer at the beginning of the season was great for that one game’s ratings. It also killed interest for Virgnia Tech’s subsequent 12 games and depressed interest for the entire ACC season.
This was also a down year for some of the nation’s most prominent programs. Schools such as Texas, Florida, Michigan and Notre Dame sell themselves to casual viewers. Unfortunately, those teams weren’t playing meaningful games past mid-October.
College football may have “the best regular season of any sport,” but that alone is not selling it. Flagging ratings will affect TV contracts. There will be cries for ways to keep teams in every conference nationally relevant throughout the season. The simplest way to accomplish that is through a playoff.
[Photo via Getty]