College Football On New Year's Eve: #thatmomentwhen Force Turns Into Love?



Would you believe it if I told you that ESPN tried to convince the College Football Playoff (CFP) that it should not put the semifinals on New Year's Eve? Well, it did, and we see how that turned out. Maybe ESPN did not fight too strongly, to be honest, because Disney Media Networks got your viewership either way with either football on ESPN or Ryan Seacrest on ABC unless you were out doing one of a variety of celebrations with your loved ones. The entity simply wanted to avoid its two powerhouse programs competing against each other if it was avoidable. For example, when Alabama found their stride against Michigan State, ESPN sensed that you might be tempted to turn the channel. So, they invited you to put your faith in Demi Lovato's live performance on ABC.

Akin to how the NFL rules Thanksgiving and how the NBA dominates Christmas, college football wants to hijack a holiday that is not a "national holiday" for which the majority of the workforce gets the day off. (Hence, the games held the 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. television time slots.) Those of you who are frustrated with the ultimate decision have every right to be frustrated that something you love - college football - can take advantage of you like this, but you cannot point your finger at the NCAA. The CFP is an entirely different beast unaffiliated with the national regulating body, making Division I FBS Football the only NCAA sport that does not have its champion determined by a yearly NCAA championship event. First and foremost, member conferences and independent member institutions run postseason play as the new entity CFP Administration, LLC with its own Board of Managers, Management Committee, and staff in Irving, Texas. From there, I will leave you to read the CFP's Story, including information about the Selection Committee that ranks the top 25 teams in the final handful of weeks, as it writes on its official website for yourself.

The 12-year contract grants ESPN the television, radio, online, mobile, and international broadcast rights for the CFP and "selected other games" for a reported $7.3 billion price tag. This is in addition to the rights ESPN already held to the Rose, Orange, and Sugar Bowl games. The image above illustrates the semifinal hosting rotation among the "New Year's Six" bowls and their dates for the next few seasons. We get to go through the struggle three of the next four years as well. Currently, neither party has plans to change the schedule or amend the contract because they believe in its ultimate success despite our dismay and the ratings reflecting said dismay this time around. For instance, the inaugural 2014-2015 semifinal show had record breaking viewership when played on New Year's Day. In contrast, this season's Orange Bowl (Clemson-Oklahoma) drew in a 9.9 rating compared to last season's early game that drew in a 15.5, and the Cotton Bowl (Alabama-Michigan State) had only a 9.7 whereas last year's late game received a 15.3. Moreover, New Year's Six bowl games experienced a 13 percent television ratings decrease from last year.

The CFP and ESPN stand firmly by their contract and plan on proving it to us unbelievers by measuring out-of-home viewers with Nielson to show that everyone will still watch it and that maybe even more will watch it. WatchESPN will probably contribute a great deal to those numbers, too. "I think WatchESPN is going to set new records for people streaming on phones and tablets," ESPN's EVP of programming and scheduling forcasted. "People are going to find a way to watch in huge numbers." Well, when you put the second most popular sport in the nation on at an inconvenient time, similar to how people will stream college football games during Saturday wedding receptions in the fall, people are forced to find a way to watch something they obviously deeply care about.

Two transparent solutions come to mind to settle this predicament for all affected parties: (1) move the games up one television time slot, and (2) avoid New Year's Eve altogether. Two opaque responses comes to mind, though: (1) many people cannot watch earlier games because they will be at work, and (2) college football and broadcasting execs believe college football fans will make the holiday and the new football holiday coexist, like "[p]erhaps the same party occurs, with the game unfolding in one room for those who wish to consume it." That is precisely what my friends, who this New Year's Eve were comprised of 85% Spartans, and I were stuck doing. We were not thrilled about the idea, but we made the most of it because of the Cotton Bowl's late start time. To me, this logic sounds a lot like an unpopular former athletic director's motto, "If it ain't broke, break it!" Fans like the CFP format, and bowl games already take over New Year's Day. Why is it necessary to force fans to change the way they celebrate their New Year's Eve holiday when it is totally avoidable?

The most tenacious force that could convince the CFP to amend its contract details and plans is the sponsorship. Broadcasting and media rights, including sponsorship and advertisements, are the most substantial source of income for the majority of sports organizations. When it comes to contract negotiations, the party with the purse is more likely to have the bargaining power. Big sponsors can stand up against a sports organization for something they value, like when the NFL began to lose important sponsors in response to the league's growing domestic violence problems.

Here, three powerhouses - Nike, Ticketmaster, and Wilson - are the CFP Game Sponsors, while a longer list of boss-status entities that includes Allstate, Ford, AT&T, Gatorade, Direct TV, and Taco Bell makes up the CFP National Sponsors. Furthermore, Dr. Pepper, the official CFP Championship Partner and the presenting sponsor of the CFP National Championship Trophy, alone pays an estimated $35 million per year for its title sponsor role through 2020. With the myriad of broadcasting formats available, sponsors' abilities to create event awareness and recognition is a powerful tool that the CFP relies on, especially when it is going against the grain to gather support for a new tradition. If, working together, the sponsors approach the two parties with a plan and an or-else-they-pull-sponsorship warning, it could be persuasive. However, CFP and ESPN could sit back and let those sponsors drop their funding because it could acknowledge that many, many companies would love to be in their place.

Despite the specific financials of the CFP-ESPN contract not being disclosed, it is safe to assume that ESPN is relying in large part on revenue from sponsors to recoup what it paid for the rights. Therefore, because ESPN has drank the Kool-Aid and now backs the CFP's desire to control New Year's celebrations, we need to try to accept this as part of the holiday festivities unless the sponsors as a whole agree with this train of thought and act persuasively.