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.
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.