We know the college football playoffs were a huge success in terms of national attention and eyeballs on the games. What impact, though, did it have on ratings of other bowls?
One of the concerns that some detractors have is that it will negatively impact the other bowls because they become meaningless (those detractors being those that benefit from bowls, mostly). Did this bear out in terms of television ratings and viewers in 2014?
Well, it’s more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no”. I looked at the viewership numbers at Sports Media Watch for 2013 and 2014 bowl seasons. Some bowls changed names, others were added. Using the bowls that existed in spirit (even if names/sponsors changed) for both years, I compared the viewers.
Here are the patterns I see.
The Lower Tier Bowls before and right around Christmas: No impact. Four playoff teams versus two playoffs teams have no bearing on how the public would view these games, as these teams are far removed from being “meaningful” in the national championship picture even if we expanded the field to 32 teams. There were 2.35 million viewers on average in 2013 for these games, and 2.28 million viewers this year.
The Bigger Name Team Bowls between December 27th and December 30th: Viewers actually up. This is the week when people are off and start watching teams they may have some regular familiarity with from the regular season. There were a million more viewers (3.68 million in 2013 versus 4.68 million in 2014 bowl season), so the presence of a playoff did not materially affect if people were willing to watch Texas, or South Carolina, or Notre Dame. There were plenty of big name programs with large fan bases playing here, so that probably provides a partial explanation of the increase.
The Non-Playoff Bowls from December 31st to January 2nd: Viewers down. This went the other way, from 8.1 million to 6.6 million last year. Fewer people watched the other top programs playing in these slots on average. This is true even though last year the Orange and Cotton were played on a Friday night at the same time, not on New Year’s Day. The Fiesta and Orange, the two other traditional BCS bowls, were particularly off their numbers from 2013. Both drew more in 2013 than any non-playoff games this year (as did last year’s Citrus Bowl).
The Playoffs: Huge numbers. All three playoff games drew at least three times the viewers of the most viewed non-playoff game (Cotton Bowl). The two semifinals drew about the same amount of viewers in two games as the Fiesta, Orange, Rose, and Sugar drew last year combined.