The verdict is in.
Most things in life can be compared to dating, and the CFB Playoff doesn’t pass the smell test for being able to avoid bad analogies.
In this case, the excitement of the first date was not matched by the second one, where basic questions get answered with the vigor of not knowing where anything is going at that point.
ESPN’s ratings for the game betwixt Alabama and Clemson were down 15 percent, and 24 percent in terms of viewers, but to be honest, ESPN or college football shouldn’t bother being worried about that versus the over 35 percent drop in the semifinal ratings.
It was expected that there would be some sort of drop for the title game versus last season, which was the perfect amalgam of curiosity, newness, and brand name when Ohio State met Oregon in the title game. Some of the ratings were likely hurt by the (false) aura of inevitability of Alabama cruising against Clemson.
The other aspect of it is that Ohio State has a tendency to generate more opinion from a national perspective than Alabama, either positive or negative. Oregon, also, with their Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, has a larger current national profile than Clemson.
The maiden voyage of the playoff was so successful … to the tune of over 33 million viewers … that there was no place to go but down. ESPN would easily have taken a 15 percent hit from the 2015 playoff games to the 2016 ones on New Year’s Eve and not looked twice going into the event.
There’s been enough discussion on that, and with advertisers predictably salty, ESPN should use whatever might it has to force the powers that be into a corner that leads to a system where every year, games are on days and in times when your average 9-to-5 weekday worker can watch.
Still, there’s reason to look at creative options.
The Monday night game slot isn’t bad, especially in the throes of the end of the NFL’s Monday Night Football, where sports fans of interest are sort of conditioned at that point to sitting down and watching meaningful football. College football and ESPN could give thought to having the game on a Sunday night, because the NFL doesn’t occupy that time for their playoff games, one normally reserved for their biggest game of the week.
The other option is marrying it to a weekend night, so basically, Friday or Saturday. While it sounds great, you run into problems with the NFL playoff schedule on Saturday, and that’s a beast no one wants to poke for good reason.
College football and ESPN’s best play is to be flexible, understanding that some years are going to be more conducive to high ratings and interest than others, not only because of the day but because of the teams involved.
The formula should start with trying to have playoff games on New Year’s Day. If that’s not possible, hold the games on a non NFL playoff weekend date, even if that means moving up the playoffs a week and having them in late December.
Either way, there’s no doom and gloom that should be associated with the lower ratings for this year’s title game versus last season’s. It should be expected, but open ears should carry the day from here on out regarding solutions going forward.
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