Bleak ratings outlook for Big East and FOX Sports 1

(USA TODAY Sports)

(USA TODAY Sports)

Big Apple Buckets had a great dive into the 2012-13 ratings for nationally televised college basketball games this morning, complete with a spreadsheet of the top-100 teams in regards to rankings. As if the two links weren’t a big enough tell, I highly suggest taking a look at it.

After taking some time to digest the numbers, my first reaction was: “HOW IN THE WORLD DID THE BIG EAST GET FOX TO PONY UP $500 MILLION?” Pardon my Jae Crowder speak, but the caps were both warranted and necessary. There is absolutely no way you can spin the ratings to legitimize the contract from FOX’s end other than it was desperate for content. It bought a 2009 Chevy Impala for the price of a 2014 Lamborghini Murcielago. Think I’m being dramatic? Keep reading.

Let’s start with the numbers of the members of the Big East as it will be come July 1.

        Team Games Avg. Rating
18) Georgetown 16 0.55
23) Butler 12 0.516666667
37) Marquette 18 0.344444444
53) St. John’s 14 0.228571429
55) Creighton 8 0.225
58) Villanova 18 0.205555556
71) Xavier 9 0.144444444
78) Providence 10 0.11
83) Seton Hall 7 0.1
84) DePaul 6 0.1

The first reaction is, meh. Only one top-20 team (Georgetown in at No. 18) and only three top-50 teams (Hoyas, Butler and Marquette). Right off the bat this is a worrisome statistic. Every conference will have its bottom feeders that drag down games, but for a conference to do well it needs at least one team (probably more) to be the ratings titan. No matter who they are playing, you are sure to have people watching. Georgetown, Butler and Marquette were top dogs last year, but save for the Hoyas, weren’t prize-fight draws on their own.

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to TV ratings, and which I tried to highlight in a column a few months back, is that  there is a strong correlation between AP/Coaches Poll rankings and TV interest. A random person with no rooting interest is much more likely to watch a game with a ranked team involved than one without. Duh. But along with that, they are even more likely to watch two ranked teams, particularly if both are ranked in the top 10.

I mention that because only Butler and Georgetown made it into top-10 status at any point last season. The Hoyas were there the final two weeks of the season while the Bulldogs were there for two weeks in January. In fact, the league as a whole was downright  awful in the polls. Only four teams achieved a top-25 AP ranking (the same three plus Creighton), and only once in 19 polls were they ranked at the same time (the week of Feb. 4).

This creates a lot of match-ups that people have no interest in, driving down ratings as a whole, but also gives the TV network very little chance to play-up a game and build some buzz. Remember that great finish between Butler and Gonzaga, it wouldn’t have received half of the attention if they weren’t both in the top-15 (the Zags were No. 8). AP ratings beget TV ratings. They both matter.

Looking a bit ahead to next season, Marquette and Creighton are almost universal top-25 teams in early polls with Georgetown also receiving votes. You can expect Butler to sniff the rankings at some point while St. John’s, Providence and Villanova have a good shot of getting in at least once, probably more during the season. Still, there is no “elite” team that will make regular Joes clear out time to watch. Marquette is too young at the guard spot and Creighton loses a big presence inside in losing Echenique. Barring a complete collapse, The Hoyas will remain top billing again as they have the most prominent national reputation.

If you look at the rankings table again, you will see a litany of  Big Ten teams  at the top. They had multiple top-10 teams every week last season, and as such had made-for-tv match-ups. What FOX needs more than anything is a pair of teams to be good in the same year, but based on recent history and early projections, that won’t happen in 2014.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not all doom and gloom. All ten teams were in the top 100 and the quality will remain just below the top leagues. However, there is a giant grain of salt with a team like DePaul being ranked No. 84. Most of these nationally televised games came against teams that will no longer be in the Big East (namely Louisville). This is going to be a problem as a whole for the conference. Six of the top seven teams in the Big East last year in term of TV ratings are no longer on the conference schedule.

Louisville and Syracuse were No. 11 and No. 12, respectively, Notre Dame was No. 18, UConn was No. 25, Cincy was No. 29 and Pitt was No. 32. (Here’s a PDF with former and current teams highlighted.) I don’t have the exact ratings for every single game, but I’m willing to bet a big chunk that most of Marquette’s best ratings numbers came against these teams. Take them out of the picture and the eyeballs plummet. I realize Creighton and Butler did well without playing in the conference, but they don’t come close to touching what is being lost.

This is analysis is no indictment of the C7.  Lousville, Syracuse, ND and Pitt were already leaving so the numbers would change anyways. Instead this is more of a WTF on behalf of FOX. I realize it needed content to be able to sell the new channel, but it overpaid by a lot.

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13 Comments on “Bleak ratings outlook for Big East and FOX Sports 1”

  1. June 10, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

    You’re listing a ranking of local television ratings; it makes no sense to compare ratings in different markets without indicating the size of those markets.

    For example; St Johns is telecast in the NY-metro market with over 8mil people; the Omaha metro region where Creighton plays is 400k persons. Yet you present them as near equals in your rankings and discussion.

    This changes for nationally televised games obviously, but it is not at all clear yet that fox won’t make money off this deal.

    • June 10, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

      These rankings are only for nationally televised games, hence the first sentence: “Big Apple Buckets had a great dive into the 2012-13 ratings for nationally televised college basketball games this morning.”

      Also no one is claiming FOX won’t make money. BE basketball is about 6th on the pecking order of importance and won’t determine its fate one way or another. I said FOX overpaid for the content they are getting.

      • Todd
        June 15, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

        I do not think Fox overpaid. Cable does not get it’s primary income from ratings. It is subscriber fees. Will more people watch Fox Sports instead of SpeedVision? Fox owns 1/2 the Big Ten Network. This model is based on charging subscriber fees. Also, if you are going to use ratings as a basis for whether Fox overpaid. How about figuring out the average spot rate (what you charge for a commercial) and doing the math. in increasing the current footprint and solidifying the current one. Finally with so much streaming content, viewers will still watch news and sports live. Netflix, Crackle, Hulu, all compete with “ratings” as well. (Traditional HUTS or households using television, is down because of the competing streaming outlets.) People will pay to watch sports live. Other content can be watched On Demand. This is a multi-year deal, and as streaming content continues to grow, Fox will make their most money on the tail end.

  2. John Meyer
    June 11, 2013 at 3:16 pm #

    Keep a couple of things in mind. Marquette has a semi-big name player in Davante Gardner, especially if he makes the World University team, also Marquette, Butler and Creighton will be carrying the “David” banner in the David vs. Goliath arena of college basketball.

    • June 11, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

      I don’t think the World University Games will have much effect. I couldn’t tell you one player from the 2011 team. It’s not televised anywhere. And the underdog status comes into play really in the NCAA Tournament. It’s an interesting thought, though — Gardner is crazy marketable if he really takes off this year. The “new” tag on the conference, too, could spark viewership.

  3. BrooklynRedMan
    June 11, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

    Really dude? 6th in the pecking order? This league is better right now than the Pac and SEC.

    You also fail to realize that in the old big east most of the national games went to teams who left. We will get many more nationally televised games which will help the likes of Butler, Creighton and Xavier who saw little TV time in their previous mid-major leagues. Now also factor in that if the Johnnies are in the hunt for the title they will get a boost in ratings. The fan base needs some convincing that they are actually back. Been a loooong decade.

  4. Loren Farr
    June 21, 2013 at 9:49 am #

    Having spent 30 years at the mercy of TV rates with my job at stake I feel I know a couple of things about the monster.

    Paint Touches came out with a piece questioning the value of the New Big East because of the apparent low ratings potential. I respect the guys at PT and the outstanding work they have done since arriving on the scene. I want to remind them it’s not where your ratings start it’s where they lead. Building ratings can take years but you have to have building blocks. The Big East is a name brand with value to build on. Whether that takes place is up to the league members and Fox. I do not doubt Fox will do their part. Buzz’s story line is a marketing dream. So is the Butler “Cinderella” story and there are other potential national story lines.

    A little bit about my background. I started as a broadcaster and saw it change to narrowcasting. Audiences are targeted to reach specific demographics. Our regular accessing to specific sites on the Internet provide a wealth of information for data mining marketing. The Fox contract provides programming for a start up and drives traffic to online sites. That is an acorn that will give Fox invaluable marketing information that goes far beyond college basketball ratings.

    Even without the data mining information think about other start up media operations. Does anyone remember the first year of CNN? We called them the “Chicken Noodle Network.” Ted Turner’s entry into cable was a down and out UHF independent TV station in Atlanta that aired 1950s reruns of “The Cisco Kid” and treated news like a joke. Fox New was practically given away to cable companies just so they could get on the air and build an audience. ESPN’s first years amounted to picking up programming none of the big networks or cable operations wanted. (Their production values were crappy at best.)

    We’re in a new ratings and media world. The target keeps moving and that means paradigms of the past don’t mean much. Those who understand that have become billionaires.


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