Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wolverine Wednesday: Are We Starting to See The Slow Death of Bowl Games?

We know that the playoffs are coming for the top teams in the 2014 season. We also know many of the teams that attend these games lose money due to ticket guarantees and other travel costs. So how are the bowl games doing and are people attending? The average crowd this year for the 35 bowl games was just under 50,000 per game which is down 2% from the prior year and the lowest average attendance since 1978-79.

With 70 teams making bowl games and a playoff system coming in less then two years, will these bowls stand long term?  My guess is no.   I attended the Outback Bowl this year and most of the upper bowl was empty and they were up 5,000 fans from the year before.  What really shocked me was watching the Sugar Bowl and seeing so many open seats.   Bowl games are starting to have an NFL Pre-Season feel if your not in a BCS game.  Last years Sugar Bowl was a 100% different then the vibe from the Outback this year, where the winner got it's fans a free appetizer. 

Here are some of the bowls that had the biggest drop in attendance:

  • Little Caesars :  -22,867
  • Russell Athletic: -20,178
  • Meineke Car Care:  -18,009
  • Gator: -12,700
  • Belk: -10,299
  • Sugar: -10,334
To be fair, some games had big gains as well:  BBVA was up nearly 30k, Armed Forces was up over 10K and Poinsettia was up 10K as well. 

I believe these games will become harder and harder for fans to travel to when their teams don't make one of the playoff spots.   Clearly, Florida fans were not excited about the Sugar Bowl after missing a shot at the BCS National Championship.  Nebraska fans which normally travel well were not real excited about playing the SEC runner-up after Wisconsin puts 70 points on them in the Big Ten Championship game.

The TV money is saving these games but will ESPN and others continue to pay big dollars for these games when the playoffs start and their current Bowl contracts runs out? 

These bowl games could become the NIT equivalent after the playoffs format starts in 2 years.  If that happens, college football will have to expand the playoff system so more teams can get in so it has more of a "March Madness" type of excitement.   When you see examples like Maryland and Rutgers athletic departments running with huge deficits, how can they still support a system where they lose millions of dollars each year?

  • 2014 WR recruit Drake Harris from Grand Rapids has decided he prefers playing big time football over playing basketball at MSU.   So Drake has opened up his recruitment and will be looking at traditional football powers like Michigan, Alabama, Florida, ND, OSU and others.

  • Wheat is back  in the NFL as the RB coach for the Buffalo Bills.  Congrats Tyrone!

  • The Michigan coaches will be visiting Texas TE Durham Smythe today.


uncle ron said...

I've always felt there are way to many Bowl games, the quality of the games has slipped badly...not just because you happened to win 6 games, just saying...

Voice of Reason said...

I agree Ron, the quality of the bowls are bad in large part I believe because there are so many of them. In years gone by there were only a handful of bowls and not everyone could get into one. Remember when the Big Ten wouldn’t let their runner up go to a bowl? There was good money in bowl games; so greed prompted the powers that be to create more bowls which seems to have diluted the quality and the interest. How many of us are interested in an “Aunt Mae’s Fried Chicken Bowl, featuring conferences second runner ups between NW Idaho Community College verses Southern New Mexico School of Car Waxing,” both teams with a six and six record.
Now even with the better teams, if your school is not going to the Championship game or a BCS bowl some may see it as a second class bowl and would rather watch it on television if you can afford cable. Which is another issue; paid television takes the product out of the public eye and over time dilutes the interest of the product. In this economy not everyone can afford paid television or a bowl game for that matter.
And don’t get me started on the playoffs. I believe there’s a reason why play offs work for the 1-AA schools and that the high majors (except Alabama) don’t care for it. Among other reasons, it places more pressure on coaches to produce than let’s say in the old days when it was up to the writers and coaches to choose who they believed the national champions were. Then if you finished in the top ten you were still considered an elite program and you could blame the voters. Even with the BCS system if you got into one of the bowls you are considered an elite program. Now we run the risk of gaining an NFL mindset brought into the NCAA which is unless you win the hold thing it’s not enough.
And finally, I guess the status of the bowls is going the same way as everything else in life that has a life cycle; it begins, it lives and then it dies. By the way, can anyone tell me if Sears still provide those big paper catalogs?

JQP said...

Dear VofR,

So what are the reasons playoffs work in 1-AAA and why is it any different from the majors? Is the "NFL mindset" hurting the 1-AAAs?

I agree that there are too many bowl games now -- Roger Goodell should take note and not expand the NFL playoffs. Maybe a playoff system will eventually get rid of a lot of the trivial bowls.

Personally, I liked the old way with the traditional rivalries,controversy, etc. But, alas, with the conference realignments, that ship has sailed.

Voice of Reason said...

The NFL mind set is not hurting the 1-AAA level schools because the pressure isn't the same as it is with high major schools or the NFL to make the playoffs and to win the big one.

Back in the old days when the champion was chosen by the votes of the writers and coaches, the programs that weren’t chosen could justify that they were robbed (e.g., remember Penn State?) Schools with one loss weren't even considered for the national title and most likely if you were the only undefeated team left standing, you were voted the champion, and you may not have been as good as the one loss teams. In some cases with two undefeated teams there were split titles (Remember Michigan and Nebraska?) Nevertheless, the high majors were happy because if you had a bevy of one loss programs they were all considered elite.

My point being that when football champions were chosen subjectively and not on the field, it allowed the high majors programs to share in the elite status with limited chances to prove it on the field thereby reducing the pressure. Now, with us moving closer to proving the champs on the field the pressure is more of put up or shut up.

In the NFL as we know, coaches are being fired when they have losing records. However, even coaches with winning track records are being fired when they consistently miss the play offs, or don't win the big one. (Think of Lovey Smith and Andy Reid this year.) They have more aggregate wins between them than many coaches. Both have been to the Super bowl and did not win it yet both are fired.

Arizona fired Ken Whisenhunt, the winningest coach in Cardinals history, been to a super bowl but he didn't win enough. Andy Reid the winningest coach in Eagles history but he didn't win enough. Look at the New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, every time his teams have a bad year or two the media talks about him being on the hot seat, and he's won at least two Super bowls.

In the old days colleges would go through a season and at the end hope to be rewarded with a bowl appearance for a good season. Win or lose everyone was happy. Now my concerns are that as bad as it is now on the high major levels of college football, an NFL type play off systems will bring the same kind of pressure to the amateur level. You are welcome to disagree.