The TV ratings for the Pac-12’s unprecedented 9 a.m. kickoff are in.
At worst, they’re inconclusive.
The USC-Arizona State thriller generated a 1.3 rating and 2.3 million viewers for FOX in the “Big Noon Kickoff” broadcast window.
That’s a 45% week-over-week decrease for “Big Noon Kickoff” ratings, but it requires a caveat for the ages: The major news networks called the election 30 minutes before kickoff.
“You can’t take away (from the ratings) that it doesn’t work,” said Austin Karp, the managing editor/digital at the Sports Business Journal, who shared the data with the Hotline. “The election hit every game, every network, every conference. Nobody was immune.”
The long-awaited call on Joe Biden’s victory didn’t just hit college football; it took a sledgehammer to the ratings.
According to Karp, the three major cable news networks (CNN, Fox and MSNBC) experienced a 244% increase in viewership from noon to 1 p.m. EST — the window that contained the first hour of the Pac-12 game.
In raw numbers: The three networks had 14 million viewers in that time slot, compared to four million the previous Saturday.
“Everybody and their mother was tuning into the election,” Karp said. The numbers are “no gauge of whether it can work for FOX. You have to throw it all out.”
Nonetheless, further context is required:
— The 2.3 million viewers more than doubles the audience for the best-rated Pac-12 night games and quadruples the viewership for an average night kickoff (500,000, approximately).
— The Pac-12 duel outdrew FOX’s mid-day game, Kansas State-Oklahoma State (4 p.m. Eastern), by approximately 400,000 viewers.
— It substantially outdrew the Oregon-Stanford game on ABC, which began at 7 p.m. Eastern and drew 1.7 million viewers.
“In a normal day,” Karp said of the 9 a.m. concept, “it would do much better. It would draw a 3 (rating), or maybe even better.”
Each rating point translates to about 1.8 million viewers.
With a 3.0 rating, an early kickoff would outdraw every Pac-12 game from the 2019 season except the conference championship and the Oregon-Auburn showdown on Labor Day weekend.
“As someone who has been raised a Pac-12 fan, I like the idea and definitely think they should try it again,” said John Entz, the former Fox Sports President for Production who served on Arizona’s basketball staff under Lute Olson.
“To me, it’s not just about the game viewership; it’s about two other significant issues: Having your biggest games in the national conversation throughout the day, and kicking early makes sure that happens; and hopefully lessening the late kickoffs, which are loathed by everyone in the conference.
“Obviously, it’s a different equation with fans involved. But this season, the early kicks are a no-brainer.”
The Pac-12 is evaluating the USC-ASU game on multiple fronts (ratings, stadium operations, team logistics, player reaction).
It has placed 9 a.m. games “in the consideration set” for the rest of this season, according to a source, who did not specify which games might be options.
However, additional Pac-12 appearances on “Big Noon” would require not only willing participants but also interest from FOX, which has weekly Big Ten and Big 12 options, as well.
Two other developments of note from the TV world:
— The Washington State-Oregon State night game on FS1 drew approximately 594,000 viewers — an increase of 15% over the average Pac-12 night game on FS1 last year, according to Karp.
— The Pac-12 has another fascinating broadcast lineup this week, with an unprecedented triple-header on FOX:
USC-Arizona at 12:30 (Pacific), followed by Oregon-Washington State and capped by Utah-UCLA, the first 7:30 p.m. broadcast on FOX in conference history.
Add the 9 a.m. game, and the Pac-12 will have four different time slots on FOX within two weekends.
That’s valuable data as the conference and its network partners begin to plot strategy for the next round of media rights contracts.
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