The College Football Playoff has been a total and unmitigated bust. From the bowl games that were blowouts to the national championship semifinals being stupidly scheduled for New Year’s Eve, the NCAA directors have clearly bungled the schedule.
There was little they could do about the blowouts, although some have said that organizers could have done a better job of matching them up. But there’s always a risk that games won’t be the thrillers broadcasters hope for.
But putting the College Football Playoff semifinals on New Year’s Eve was a sign of hubris. TV viewership was down 45% from last year when the games were held on New Year’s Day.
On New Year’s Eve, with games at 4 and 8 pm, you’d have to be a committed fan to tune in, leaving the casual fan (who is the target audience that typically gooses ratings) out of the equation.
If anything, the New Year’s Eve shows from Times Square outperformed the football games. New Year’s Eve isn’t for football. It’s for partying and celebrating the New Year.
The College Football Playoff attempt.
What the powers behind the College Football Playoff were trying to do was to own a day. The thought process was that, while we were all ringing in the New Year, we’d have the football games on in the background. That the College Football Playoff semifinals would serve as a staple for any New Year’s Eve party.
The problem is one of brand permission. The College Football Playoff has permission to own New Year’s Day, as it’s the traditional day for bowl games. (Even if most bowls are held on other days today.) Bowl games are what start the New Year, not ringing it in.
The misstep is a result of a complete misunderstanding of the college football brand, especially bowl season. ESPN, which carried the College Football Playoff semifinals, actually wanted them to be played on Jan. 2 because it was on a Saturday, another day in which college football has permission to own. That would have worked.
The disturbing part is that those same officials who wanted the New Year’s Eve semifinal match-ups want them again next year. That sounds like stubbornness, an attempt to demonstrate that the move was correct even if the numbers loudly suggest otherwise.
The championship game between Clemson and Alabama may draw larger numbers next week, but my expectation is that the College Football Playoff has already lost its audience.