Are repeated late kickoffs hurting the Washington Huskies’ national exposure, as coach Chris Petersen contends? Actually, no, Chris — they’re helping it.
There are two ways to respond to Washington coach Chris Petersen’s complaint that late kickoffs are hurting the Huskies’ national exposure.
The first is pointing out that after agreeing to a 12-year, $3 billion television deal with the Pac-12, the networks can do whatever they want. ESPN and Fox have every right to schedule games in the most lucrative fashion possible.
The contract was a financial record-breaker when it was signed six years ago, and resulted in massive sums of cash flowing into schools that could suddenly build top-notch facilities and pay coaches A-list salaries. I doubt Petersen has any gripes about the $4.875 million he pockets every year.
But there’s another way to respond to the coach’s criticism of the incessant post-5 p.m. kickoffs. A much more succinct way, in fact.
These late games are hurting your team’s national exposure? Actually, no, Chris — they’re helping it.
Thursday afternoon, I asked Petersen if there was a solution that could reduce late start times without sacrificing revenue. He admitted he hadn’t put much thought into what it might be, but figured there had to be a compromise out there somewhere.
“I just know we play all (our games) at night, and it’s not always the case that everybody is doing that, and it seems like you could get some sort of happy medium,” Petersen said. “I know there are a lot of smart people in this business that can figure some things out if they really want to.”
So I went on the hunt for smart people in the business. The first was Nick Dawson, Vice President of Programming at ESPN.
I asked if there was any way to remedy the scheduling so fans in the Central and Eastern time zones could watch elite Pac-12 football. His response? Check the data, dude.
Through the first five years of this TV deal, the national viewership for Pac-12 games after 9 p.m. has been 12 percent greater than for those played in the afternoon. And on ESPN2, the national viewership has been 72 percent greater for late-night Pac-12 games versus those played during the day.
One might contend the national surge is due to an overwhelming number of West Coast fans watching in prime time. But then there’s this stat.
Last year, not only was the average national audience bigger for late-night Pac-12 games, the East/Central region audiences (defined as everything east of the Rockies) were bigger, too. Early Pac-12 kickoffs drew 60 percent of their audience from the East/Central region versus 40 percent from the Pacific region. Late Pac-12 kickoffs, meanwhile, drew 65 percent of their audience from the East/Central versus 35 percent from the Pacific.
In other words, viewership from the Eastern and Central time zones didn’t shrink for games starting after 9 p.m. — they grew. The reason? Simple. Fans don’t have any other games to watch.
“It’s the competition element,” Dawson said. “When there are games being played across the country, our network’s viewers tend to gravitate toward the teams closest to their homes. But late at night, those viewers don’t have other teams.”
Of course, Petersen’s complaint wasn’t just about national exposure. It was about appealing to fans who embrace the ambience of daytime college football — or fans who don’t want to put their kids to bed at 1 a.m. after a 7:30 start.
That’s the sentiment behind many of the emails my co-workers and I have received regarding this topic. Sure, the Huskies are killing it on the field, but they’re killing tradition, too.
Unfortunately, this is the price Pac-12 fans have to pay these days. The proceeds from TV deals are essential to keeping the conference competitive.
When it’s time to negotiate their next contract, could Pac-12 officials insist on a cap for late-night games per team? Sure. But as former Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen told me — when you add restrictions, you subtract from the revenue.
Hansen also mentioned that night games have long been the tradition in conferences such as the ACC and SEC, and you don’t hear fans complaining out there. And though parents might not be able to take their young children to a late-night football game, they will be able to watch their midafternoon soccer games.
It’s a trade-off. That’s the healthiest way to look at it, because these late kickoffs aren’t going anywhere.
The good news? That might not be such a bad thing.