Today Sean passed this article by Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports to us blog fathers and it is a very interesting reading. Dodd examines some of the signs, namely declining TV ratings and attendance, that College Football may have peaked in its popularity. Meanwhile athletic directors and conference commissioners are tasked with continuing to expand a product that may have no more room for growth. The article asks questions, like, Is TV cutting into game day attendance? Is a new generation with new technology less interested in these games? I’m not sure these are the right questions. I’ll tell you what concerns me more, after the jump...
Attendance at the Military Bowl. Clearly, we did not need this bowl game.
Throughout my lifetime I have watched the sport I love do nothing but grow. Everything from stadium capacities to the number of televised games, bowl games, and even the number of Division I programs have all risen to levels that would have seemed cartoonish just a few decades ago. Astronomical TV contracts, ever expanding stadiums, new bowls and new teams added every year... can college football sustain this kind of growth? Surely it cannot, so what then? Will it collapse under its own weight taking countless programs down with it, or will it simply level off to a more sustainable level of growth, focusing on adding quality rather than quantity?
The last few years we have hit a tipping point. There was a time when new bowls were exciting and made sense, and adding new teams was the same. ESPN and regional cable sports networks brought more and more games into our living rooms and it was a welcome sight. But lately, perhaps for a decade now, every new addition brings more eye rolling than excitement. Does FBS football really need a Belk Bowl, or Arkansas State? Do any of us need either to be on TV? Definitely not. A few years ago now college football was expanding with programs like Boise State, UCONN and Nevada that have brought excitement and strong fan bases to the college football landscape. Additions of bowl games like the Las Vegas Bowl and Outback Bowl brought good matchups and great fan destinations to the bowl season. On ESPN, Prime Sports and then Fox Sports Net/Root we could finally watch our own team and our conference foes on TV regularly, and we even got to experience the air-it-out craziness of the old WAC. Basically additions were good. Not anymore. We have plenty of teams, too many games on TV and way too many bowls. We have diluted the product.
Since 1987, 26 programs have been added to the top division of College Football. With the money from TV and bowl games it was like the Klondike Gold Rush of collegiate sports and lots of programs were willing to risk everything to make the leap. Pretty much everyone who took the leap has made out like a bandit, so far. (interestingly Pacific University shut down their football program in 1995, right when things were beginning to really blow up. This is a program that absolutely walloped Wichita State in the 1948 Raisin Bowl, then less than 50 years later, poof!)
Thought Football was great last year? Just wait 'til Old Dimnion joins FBS in 2014!
But like most bubbles, somebody has to be sitting on a steaming pile of you-know-what, right? Is it really possible that programs like Georgia State, Louisiana Monroe, and our pals the Vandals, aren’t just a little over-valued in all this? Or God Forbid, is it us in the major conferences that are writing checks our true value will never be able to cash? The latest round of TV negotiations screamed SPECULATION BUBBLE. Was there really enough value in this product to justify the massive payouts? However there are some encouraging signs that sober minds may be getting out ahead of this problem before it bursts all over us. First of all, we finally have a playoff on the way. Sure, it is only four teams, but all indications are that this thing is going to expand in the coming years. That alone may inject a much needed shot of enthusiasm into a fan base that is no longer interested in watching two directional schools play in an empty stadium in the Charmin Ultra Bowl. Also, the pressure conference realignment is putting on teams like Idaho will make others think twice before trying to move up a division. Lets face it, FBS has all the teams worth having already and a few others (I'm looking at you, Florida Atlantic!).
On the Palouse we can see both the boom (Wazzu) and the bust (Idaho) of this football bubble. Idaho has been left without a chair after the latest round of conference musical chairs and looks more and more like a team with FCS value paying a mortgage with an FBS price tag. Meanwhile, in Pullman that beeping sound you hear is from the dump trucks the Pac-12 Net keeps backing up to Bohler gym and dumping mounds of cash. Are we really worth this much? Is there another shoe ready to drop? Hopefully not.
Finally, while it probably does not imperil the programs bottom line, given our revenue now comes mostly from TV, we are a team with attendance issues that need to be resolved. So far Bill Moos’s stadium plans have focused on a smarter stadium, rather than a larger stadium. Just because everybody wants an upper deck, doesn’t mean everyone needs one and we’d surely have to tarp ours like the Oakland A’s. These days people have more options than ever on gameday. No longer is it A. drive across the state, or B. listen to Bob Rob. The game day experience needs to compete successfully with all the other options if we want butts in seats. While the festivities and amenities available to fans are better than they've ever been, there are still big factors working against us. Namely, it is time consuming and expensive to get yourself (and your family) to and from Pullman and the home schedule, which caters almost entirely to TV audiences, is terrible.
I don't have numbers to back this assumption, but it seems obvious to me that the fans who attend games are the ones whose support is least fickle and most likely to go beyond the cost of their ticket. In an uncertain time, an investment in their continued support seems wise and I hope to see future home schedules improve. Other than that I believe Moos is working hard to put a good team on the field in a nice stadium. Is it good enough to justify the cost vs. your sofa and 60" flat screen or a stool at the Joker Pub? I guess its up to all of us to decide.
Did the bubble already burst at Tennessee?
Wow, 200 million in debt is not a number to sneeze at.
I'm not buying the alarmist doomsday scenarios... the (small) drop in attendance closely mirrors the free fall of the economy. The modest drop in TV ratings for a couple networks closely mirrors the massive expansion of viewing options available on alternate networks.Whether TV contracts are being overvalued or undervalued remains to be seen...but after the P12 Network closed their deal, I'm sure a ton of SEC are feeling undervalued by their CBS deal (which was a record when it was signed).
And the smaller Bowl games continue to draw TV audiences (New Mexico Bowl topped Butler's upset over #1 Indiana in ratings). Try telling me that the NCG was more exciting than the New Mexico Bowl. And the 2008 Humanitarian Bowl was among the best games I've ever seen. If you don't like them, don't watch; but plenty of people do, or at least enough do to keep them viable.
The real danger for the future of college football is being too slow to change. What's driving people away isn't small schools, or sparsely attended bowl games; it's the mind-boggling refusal by the NCAA to listen to the SCREAMS from fans demanding a playoff system. The fans are loudly, and overhwhelmingly, pleading for a true playoff system. People don't like the BCS; it's confusing; it's arbitrary; it's illogical; and it's unsatisfying. To increase college football expansion and sustain fan interest, some sort of playoff system is absolutely necessary.
As for increasing attendance at home games...the key is to make BEING at the game a completely different (i.e. better) experience than WATCHING the game. How exactly you do that effectively is beyond me. (the premium seating is a very good start though)
you make a valid point about fans and wanting a playoff, which is soon to be implimented. The problem with instituting it earlier though is $$$$. That's right, the same folks that are paying the big bucks for the Pac-12, SEC, (fill in the blank here) are the same ones who paid the big bucks for the long term contracts for the bowl games. There was no way for the NCAA to negate or renegotiate those deals. Now that they have come up for renewal there can be discussion. I fully expect that in the next about 10 years the playoff system will expand. At some point I expect it to be as many as 32 teams. That would many teams would kill nearly all the bowl games though.
Here is something else to add. The effect of concussions and severe injuries. I read speculation that all of football might be headed (oops) for decline. Consider what happened to college boxing, which was very big up into the 1950s. WSU was one of the major national programs under the late Ike Deiter. but, when pro boxing started being televised a couple nights a week in the 1950s and some college boxers were hurt, college boxing disappeared very quickly. Coach Deiter had a picture in his training room at Bohler of a WSU-Wisconsin boxing match that drew 15,000, if I recall. Could this happen to football? I hope not.
@Robert K. Excellent point, Robert. Its a much bigger deal than people want to recognize. This may the subject of an upcoming post.
@Robert K. Absolutely agree. The head injury issue isn't going away any time soon, and even Grantland.com had an article about the "end of days" for football.
It's a pretty good look/read on how it might all come crashing down. It's hard to imagine it right now, but you never know.
College football is at a crossroads right now in terms of attendance. I think as many others have said, people are still watching the games, they just aren't going to the stadiums like they used to! There are so many other options for being able to see a football game these days, paying an absurd price for a ticket coupled with parking, food and drinks at the stadium is not worth it to many folks anymore. Something has to give here. Is college football going to make drastic changes to make attending a game more compelling to the average fan? By the way, I think the NFL is having the exact same problem. I know I haven't been to a Seahawks games in over 2 seasons, and I feel like I really haven't missed a whole lot.
The playoff could help, but how much will that affect in-season attendance to many D1 games? I would bet that the playoff games themselves will be able to sell tickets with ease (something the majority of bowl games this season had major issues with as we all saw), but is a playoff alone going to get more people attending games during the season?
@FanInTheStands One key to better mid-season attendance is better match ups. But i think the bottom line is that college football needs to stop adding things there is no demand for: Seats, teams, bowls, etc. Its like everyone rushing at breakneck speed to meet a demand that hasn't been there since about 1999.
Good article. Lots of questions to ponder during the offseason. Wish I could go to more games and support the team. Unfortunately, I live in LA. I did manage to make it out to Pullman this year for a game (first time in 5 years). Too bad it was the Colorado game... yeesh. Money well spent.
Not only bowls, how about the regular season too? I know a family that has had seasons tickets for nearly a decade that is not renewing this off season. I just found out we will now be forced to make a $50 CAF donation to keep our (27 year) ticket locations this season. We can eat $50 a ticket, but if it were much more than that we'd have to have been in the same boat.
We have to pay $50 when it used to be zero. We have to pay $20 (per game) to park when it used to be zero. And for what? The premier game of every year is almost always now in The Clink now (Stanford this year, Oregon last year). The 7PM games mean we don't roll back into town until 2AM which is murder for working stiffs on regular schedules. For what? To watch us square off against 3-8 Cal? The headlining Pullman game this year is THE BEAVS. And I don't think I need to mention anything about Apple Cup scheduling.
I have just as much fun getting tanked with other Coug fans down at a bar watching away games. It's a hell of a lot cheaper, faster, and less stress.
Good work Longball. Here's where I'm coming from in all this (and I think I'm about to admit that I am the fan that most diehards flippin' HATE when it comes to attendance woes!)....
I am married with two kids, and I'm just barely north of 40 years old. We are an active family and we try to stay as busy as can be with two boys aged 12 and 9 (12 as of yesterday, wow!). We live on the wet side of the state, and Pullman is a good 5+ hours away.
Last year, 2012, was the first season that I have not gone to Pullman for a game in I don't even know when! Maybe since like 1988, it's been that long. We kept saying we would go, I even tried to get an RV pass to the UCLA game, but it just didn't come together. Yeah, the team was down for most of the year so it was hard to get excited to make the trip over. Sounds fair-weather, I know.
But this year, for the first time? I can also say I watched every snap of the 2012 season! Never had I been able to say that, and that's without going to a single game! Thanks to the Pac-12 network, a guy like me could watch the game at home on the big screen, whether live or on the DVR, and we could still do whatever we wanted to do with our weekends in the fall, which largely revolve around our kids.
In other words, I just didn't have that "sense of urgency" to get my butt to Pullman. I regret not going, I really do. We have had a blast at those tailgate parties, and I wish we could have made it happen this year. But it's just kind of hard to explain, but I guess it felt "ok" if we didn't make the trip.
The other part of this is cost. For me to take my wife and kids to just one game in Pullman, well, it's costly. Even if we take our "cabin on wheels" with the RV, there's still gas money, meals, drinks, tickets, RV pass, etc. I know it sounds like whining to many of you but those kinds of costs add up quickly for a family of four.
So the reality is this - for the cost of what it would be to take the family to Pullman, which is roughly around $500 based on our past experiences? I only had to pay $10 a month in cable fees for the Pac-12, and I saw every single play of 2012.
Now I love my Cougs, don't get me wrong. We wouldn't have kept this blog up for so many consecutive non-winning seasons if we weren't real fans. But out here in the real world, the Pac-12 network makes it very, very, very, VERY easy to have my cake and eat it too. In the past I had to make that trip if I wanted to see my Cougs, and/or hope and pray that FSN or Root or whatever would pick up our games. Now, well, not so much.
I don't know what the answer is. I loved Longball's idea of a 16-team playoff last fall, and KJR did a bracket about a month or so ago that looked amazing on paper. But Professor Sutra quickly killed that idea with his experiences on the academic side of the fence, which basically means as it stands now, the NCAA President's will never allow a 16-team playoff due to the logistics of school and the student athlete. But it sure looked great on paper!
But I do think a 16-team playoff would do wonders for instilling hope and enthusiasm that your team can indeed win a national title, even if you are like 9-2 or 10-2 and ranked, say, 11th or 12th or 15th or whatever. I mean what If the Cougs and Dawgs were going to play an Apple Cup for example, where it was set up that the winner would get a bid into the 16-team field? You bet your ASS I would do what I had to do to be in that stadium! You would make it an event that you had to witness, not opt out for the big screen.
Mrs. Ambush and I have been season ticket holders since 2002 and bought 2 more seats two years ago. We've been to all but 2 games in that time. Sean, you're absolutely right on with the cost. We don't own an RV so we stay at the Holiday Inn, eat at resturants, buy fuel for the truck, and drop about $650.00 to $700.00 per weekend. We do enjoy the experience, even with the nearly 6 hour drive. I can definately see why a "young" family would think twice before shelling out that kind of cash when the games are broadcast. I don't have an answer as to how to fill Martin Staduim. I think the Leach era may help, but reality says unless we are a legit national championship contender for an extended period of time, we will always be having discussions like this one.
@SeanHawkins completely agree, RE: the playoff problem. The biggest threat to CFB attendance and fan interest is that there is no playoff system. An overwhelming majority of fans have been begging for it for at least a decade (probably longer) and are met with a brick wall. There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is the greatest barrier holding back the sport.
The fans are shouting, but nobody is listening.
Your situation is exactly where I believe we are failing to target our fund raising efforts. I don't buy season tixs. One, I have never had a problem getting tixs to the game. Two, I elect to donate my savings on tixs to CAF. If I buy a tix from a coug, I hope they take those funds and donate it to CAF. I have been given tixs for free on occasion, I turnaround and donate to CAF.
My view is because of our location, we just will never get too much of people's entertainment money because Pullman is not an easy locale for a game day experience. For example, with the Sonics moving back we will now have seattle area Coug fans buying expensive NBA season/game tixs rather than using those funds toward Coug games/donations. It's easy to go to a game odwntown Seattle, even a late one, when the drive home is less than an hour. Shoot we even have Cougs who are poochie season tix holders because of the convenience.
Therefore, we need to create the mentality with our fans that if you are saving money on not going to a Coug game, take some or all of that savings and give it to CAF or the university. Heck you get a tax deduction for it!
Less than 5% of our alumni is a CAF member. That is just absurd when $50 makes you a member. Sean makes an excellent pt on how expensive it is to attend games in Pullman. I agree. If our west side alumni base took 25%-50% of what they would have spent traveling over for a game and donated that amount, we jump expontentially in fund raising. Right now we are failing to get those funds. They are being diverted to other things, even potentially other entertainment, such as the Seahawks, Sonics, Sounders or even the poochies!
@ptowncoug3012 I think you are absolutely right. The wet side of the state is just far enough away that you can easily distance yourself from WSU/Pullman if you wish and focus on things closer to home. With the Seahawks super hot right now, the probable/eventual return of the Sonics, and M's tickets READILY AVAILABLE at the moment, there are more options that are considerably easier to do vs. making the trip.
The other thing is that while I agree with your scenario of donating the money you might spend on a trip to Pullman? It's not so much that the typical family of four like ours doesn't have the extra disposable income. It's just that I am finding that as we get a little older, we are getting more selective with how we spend that income as a family. And it can be a harder sell to the family to simply donate a few hundred bucks vs. spending it on something that would benefit the whole family, know what I mean? My kids for example would much prefer that we drop that same money on a weekend RV trip to a lake or resort or whatever, vs. shipping off a check to the CAF based on something only I really love. My wife and kids are Coug fans of course, but they don't love it like I do. So doing that becomes more about my own desires vs. what they want as well. Tax deductions are great, and we paid more income tax last year than any year in my life(!), but at the end of the day I find that what we do with our extra cash is more about what the whole family wants, know what I'm saying?
The thing is, they DO like going to Coug games as well! They have fun and enjoy the tailgating experience. But it is more about me than it is about them, and they would rather we do other things.
The hardest thing for them to understand is how much fun it can be when the team, you know, WINS games? My oldest son was not even 2 years old when we won the Holiday Bowl in 2003, my youngest son was an infant. They have absolutely no memory or experience of how great it can feel when your team wins, and often times that love of a team is born when you are a child. They both love the Seahawks, are kind of 'meh' about the M's, and the Cougs are kind of cool but more about something their Dad obsesses about than anything else!
@SeanHawkins I think even the most hard core fans have a hard time getting to games at the time their kids are involved in a lot of activities and family should always be first. That said, If we were ripping off wins and there were good matchups on the home schedule, i think you'd be there.
As far as the extra games concern of the presidents, i think that would be mitigated by the fact that very few teams would actually be effected by this and in my proposal I shortened the non conference schedule by one game. In the 26 team tourney the champions of the major conferences get a bye in the first round of the playoffs as well, so at the end of the day you would usually end up with 2 teams out of 120 something that would play 16 games. For comparison at the FCS level where there are also school presidents and classes, Georgia Southern played 16 games and both North Dakota State and Sam Houston State played 15.
@Longball You are probably right. I know coming in to 2012 after the Leach hire, it wasn't necessarily about whether or not we would go to a game, but it was more about which games we would go to. But as the season wore on and every game on TV, well, it was much easier to "opt out" from making the trip! But had they been winning, you are probably right, we would have found a way.
@SeanHawkins They definitely need to sweeten the pot though. all the things Cyberhawk mentioned above which hurt demand, are not being countered with enough things to generate it. Increased prices, bad match ups, inconveiniant game times, bad team, plus the option to see every game on TV in HD. None of this equals more fans in the stands. I don't know what the answer is, free beer perhaps? but they need to come up with ways to make fans efforts and costs worthwhile. But like I said, at least with all this going on we aren't expanding capacity.