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Rosy Ratings a Fiesta for ESPN

1/16/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

ESPN closed its second season of Bowl
Championship Series coverage with some big moments.
The Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2 led to ESPN’s
highest-rated day ever. The Jan. 9 BCS national championship
game — Alabama’s 21-0 demolition of LSU — tackled
the second-largest audience in the history of cable.

Still, ESPN sustained audience erosion with its coverage of
the five Bowl Championship Series games, including the Sugar
and Orange bowls. Collectively, they amassed the lowest
Nielsen figures since the current format was adopted.

The BCS system — many refer to the format, which combines
poll and computer rankings to determine the top
two teams, by deleting its middle initial — is under review,
as the hue and cry for a playoff at the top level of college
football is growing louder and could produce a change in
the not too distant future.

HIGHS AND LOWS

First, the BCS highs.

ESPN notched its best-rated total-day delivery on
Jan. 2, averaging a 4.4 household cable rating and 4.4 million
homes, up 1% from a 4.3 for Jan. 1, 2011.

Those numbers were fueled in large part by significant
gains for the Fiesta Bowl. Oklahoma State’s defeat of
Stanford, 41-38, in overtime averaged a 9.7 rating, up 37%,
and 9.6 million homes and 13.7 million viewers, up 35%
and 27%, respectively, from last year’s Oklahoma-UConn
mismatch, which tallied 10.8 million watchers.

The Rose Bowl, a 45-38 win for Oregon over Wisconsin,
drew an 11.8 rating (down 10% from last year’s TCUWisconsin
contest), 11.7 million homes and nearly 17.6
million viewers (off 14.6% from 20.6 million last year).

Last year’s Rose and Fiesta bowls were played on Jan. 1,
2011, which outdelivered Jan. 2 from an average audience
perspective, 6.3 million vs. 6.2 million.

As for the title tilt, ESPN’s Jan. 9 coverage of the Tide’s
21-0 throttling of the Tigers posted a 14.0 national household
rating, translating into nearly 16.1 million households
and 24.2
million viewers.

The telecast
trailed only last
year’s BCS t itle
game. In that
contest, Auburn
topped Oregon
22-19 on Jan. 10,
2011, in the final
seconds. The
game scored a
15.3 rating and
17.7 million
homes. Its 27.3
million viewers
stands as the
largest audience
in the medium’s
history.

The 2012 BCS
championship
contest declined
11.4% from last
year’s all-time
top cable mark.
It was a rematch
of the Tigers’ 9-6 win in Tuscaloosa,
Ala., on Nov. 5 that drew more than 20
million viewers on CBS, Black Rock’s
best regular-season mark since 1989.

“Overall, we are pleased with the BCS
performance,” ESPN said in a statement.
“The two BCS championships
— this year and last year — are the
two most-watched shows in the history
of cable. Given the shutout and a less
dramatic conclusion than last year, the
slight dip in numbers was not surprising
or concerning.”

Many had also questioned the BCS,
which pitted two teams from the western
division of the Southeastern Conference
in the championship. The
regional confrontation may have hindered
its national appeal, as it assured
the SEC a sixth consecutive national title
and appeared to generate viewer fatigue.

While the game scored huge on cable (as opposed to
earlier BCS runs on ABC and Fox), Alabama-LSU was the
lowest-rated championship matchup since a 13.7 for USCOklahoma
on ABC in 2005 and was the least-viewed since
Fox tallied 23.1 million for LSU-Ohio State in 2008.

Among the 14 BCS championships, this year’s telecast
was the third lowest-rated and fifth least-viewed.

Overall, the five 2012 BCS games averaged an 8.4 U.S.
rating, a 9.8 cable rating and 14 million viewers. Those
marks were off 12.5%, 12% and 16.2%, respectively, from
a 9.6 national rating, 11.1 cable rating and 16.7 million
watchers for the 2011 BCS set, according to Nielsen data.

Much of the decline is attributable to the Orange Bowl on
Jan. 4, when West Virginia obliterated Clemson, 70-33, before
just 7.2 million viewers, the least ever for a BCS game.

CHANGE IS COMING

With the 2011-12 college football season in the books,
change appears to be in the air. The day after the championship,
BCS executive director Bill Hancock met with
the 11 conference commissioners in New Orleans, where
they reportedly discussed 50 to 60 possible changes to the
system.

Another five to seven meetings are expected before a
consensus is reached in July.

On Jan. 12, NCAA president Mark Emmert said he would
support a four-team playoff in college football — as long as
the field doesn’t grow beyond the so-called plus-one format
that would feature national semifi nals, followed by a
championship game between the winners.

ESPN holds BCS media rights through 2014 via a fouryear,
$500 million deal. The network said in a statement:
“We don’t set the format for the BCS …. We’ve said that all
along. With that said, clearly those who do — those who
run college football — are in the process of a thorough review,
which is obviously good for everyone.”

September