Full Steam Towards a College Football Playoff and a Possible Billion Dollar Payday
After day one of meetings in south Florida, 11 conference commissioners, Notre Dame’s athletic director, ESPN, and BCS execs appear to be headed full steam towards a four team playoff.
A lot remains to be seen, and four teams may not be enough in the end, but it is a very positive start.
Economics of a Playoff
A playoff system could be worth $600 million to $1.5 billion per year in television revenue, depending on the number of teams included. That’s according to economists and TV consultants quoted by ESPN.
That’s a hefty leap from the $125 million the BCS currently gets from ESPN each year under the deal set to expire after 2013.
Advertising dollars are only part of the equation.
Consultants say many media conglomerates would be excited about the prospect of building a foundation for larger business opportunities. For instance, CBS/Turner aired March Madness games this year in order to grow truTV and boost rights fees charged to cable companies and other distributors.
Kevin Adler, an economic consultant, says he believes sponsors would be banging down the doors to get a piece of the action.
“The likelihood is one of the existing brands who invests heavily in the collegiate sponsorship space would step up before anyone new had the chance to get in – someone like Allstate or AT&T,” Adler told ESPN.
Neil Pilson, former president of CBS sports, said advertising rates could increase from 25 to 40 percent, and broadcast ratings by up to 50 percent.
“I think a college football playoff is the last big American sports event that hasn’t happened yet,” Pilson told ESPN. “It’s like creating beachfront property.”
More like pulling down the old shacks that have stood in the way of luxury hotels for decades upon decades. Either way, that enticing beachfront property has been a long time coming.
Playoffs and Bowls Together
“Logic would dictate that like almost every other sport in existence, major college football choose its champion by qualifying the best available teams, then having them play each other until one remains standing,” states a January article in Forbes magazine.
So why is it only now are college football’s power brokers discussing a playoff in earnest?
Under the current system, 35 bowls means 70 of the 120 teams in college football’s top echelon can claim they had a successful season by making it to the post season. “Famous Potato Bowl champions” does sound more attractive than “eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.”
It is also easier to placate jittery fans and boosters when the end of even a moderately successful season offers a fun holiday getaway.
In a world where job security is an unknown commodity, coaches will search for anything to justify their performance and recruit new players. Not to mention the cash bonuses most coaches receive for reaching a bowl game.
Forbes reports the median net revenue for college football in 2010 was $3.15 million per school. Even so, Forbes points out 43% of FBS schools finished more than $2 million in the red.
Forbes says BYU’s TV deal is worth between $1 million to $2 million each year. That helps explain why the Cougars are one of the few non-AQ teams to finish in the black on an annual basis.
Clamor for a playoff has been growing for decades, but this year’s title bout between two SEC teams seems to have finally tipped the scales.
Hence, this week, FBS power brokers are likely to sign off on a “four team event”, since for some reason the word “playoff” is too scary to mention.
Sources tell ESPN at this point FBS conference commissioners “are too far out on a limb to turn back now” but many details remain to be hammered out.
Sources say a proposal to play semifinal games on college campuses is all but dead. At this point, it is looking like the semifinals – and final, for that matter – will be put up for auction.
Instead of the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Fiesta bowls rotating who gets to host the title tilt, cities like Atlanta, Dallas (Jerryworld anyone?) and Indianapolis could stage college football’s big event. On a side note, if that happens I’ll bet Las Vegas will start wishing UNLV had a better stadium.
It is also possible the current BCS bowls will negotiate a sweetheart deal to nab those lucrative semifinal spots.
BCS executive director Bill Hancock said the goal is to emerge from this week’s Florida meetings with “no more than two or three football postseason proposals.”
So far, it appears talks are going well and Hancock’s goal will probably be met.
When to Play the Games
ESPN sources say conference commissioners are keen on “taking back New Year’s Day.” This past season, only the Rose and Fiesta bowls were played on January 2 (January 1 fell on a Sunday this year, a day always reserved for the NFL).
That is why a playoff will likely start as a four team affair with semifinals on New Year’s Day and the championship a week later.
FBS bosses say they want to preserve some time for student athletes before the next semester starts.
That’s a noble sentiment but the real reason may be viewership and attendance dropped for the 2012 BCS championship game. Some say it is because college football went head to head with the NFL playoffs, far and away America’s most popular sporting event.
Larger playoff proposals (eight or 16 team affairs) have games starting in early to mid-December so the playoffs wouldn’t interfere with the NFL or into schools’ winter semesters.
Networks would likely push against that.
“The Christmas week is a soft economic marketplace,” Pilson told ESPN. “All the Christmas spending has taken place and advertiser budgets are depleted by the end of the year.”
What to Do About the Bowls
Outback Bowl president Jim McVay says he’s not concerned about a playoff replacing the current bowl system.
“I don’t think there’s any threat the bowl games are going away,” McVay said. “If you look at the various scenarios being reported in the media, they’re all talking about four teams.”
In fact, it looks like a large part of this week’s meetings will be about how to institute a playoff while preserving the status quo.
Network decision-makers believer the current market – with 35 bowls spread over nearly a month – is oversaturated and has cheapened the appeal and interest of FBS post-season play.
That’s why one of the items on the table is creating a committee to establish attractive and geographically sensitive bowl pairings. Up to 16 teams not selected for the four team playoff could be placed in what would essentially become a set of 10 BCS bowls.
That’s great news if you’re BYU. The Cougars regularly finish in the top 20 and with its large fan base, BYU would be very attractive to any bowl selection committee.
Of course, the new system would have some old elements as well.
The Rose bowl is fighting to keep a traditional matchup between Big Ten and Pac-12 teams, which is a little ironic considering the two conferences only squared off three times in the first 32 Rose bowls and in only half of the last 10 games.
Still, it is likely the Rose bowl will keep its current deal, and equally likely the Orange, Sugar, and Fiesta bowls would have a similar arrangement.
No word on whether the Las Vegas bowl is fighting to keep the Mountain West champion.
Depending on whether those bowls are involved in the semifinal games, you could see a New Year’s Day filled from sunrise to sunset with major bowls and semifinal games.
For now, commissioners will leave Florida with working playoff blueprints to discuss with their league members. Expect big announcements by July, either just before or during the conferences media days.
A playoff now seems inevitable – it just might take a few more months to make it official.