Thursday, August 1, 2019

Early Morning Kickoffs Are Not the Answer

By Jean Neuberger

The Pac-12 is flirting with the idea of kickoffs that begin at 9 AM.

I never thought any Power Five conference would get to this point of desperation. But here we are.

The Pac-12 has been the bottom feeder of the Power Five conferences over the last couple of football seasons. To say they've underwhelmed is putting it mildly, be it the on-field product, the weak attendance figures or the awful television ratings (the latter being the most concerning to Larry Scott).

So, the idea has sprung forth that, in order to get more people to watch Pac-12 games, they should kickoff at 9 AM Pacific time and compete with the early games from the other Power Five conferences.

In other words, forget actual attendance. They need those sweet television ratings.

This reminds me of Big Ten Media Day, when Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald blamed smartphones for the decline in attendance. And, yes, the ability to watch games from anywhere at anytime has certainly not been beneficial to those who want to put butts in seats.

However, I disagree with Fitzgerald.

The main reason college football has had declining attendance numbers is that the athletic directors and conferences have focused solely on television ratings, rather than the in-game experience. When SEC, ACC, and Big 12 schools are playing in late August, when afternoon temperatures can be near 100 degrees in the stands and over 100 on the field, that's due to the wants of the TV brass, not the needs of the fans who pay the money to watch it in person.

When Group of Five schools find it better to have conference showdowns on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, they are destroying the fan experience for the glimmer of hope that a few sets will flip to watch their respective teams in action. Myself, as much as I enjoy college football, I'm too much of a traditionalist to want it any other day but Saturday (except for Thanksgiving and bowl games).

When the Pac-12 wants to have early morning kickoffs, practically eliminating the tailgate experience for the sake of those on the east coast possibly turning on one of their games, they've forsaken their current fan base for the chance to make an extra buck or two over the airwaves.

College football ... college sports, really, is at a crossroads.

Media has become powerful enough for the casual fan to watch a game from their more comfortable home. Media money has poured into Power Five schools' coiffeurs. However, networks like ESPN have been losing money from these deals. Eventually, the money train will slow down significantly. And, if the focus remains on milking the TV deals, will the attendance be there to make extending the networks themselves an attractive option?

Schools should be focused on improving their game day experience. It should be affordable, it should be beyond entertaining and it should create an experience that makes the average couch potato wish they were there, and not at home.

Right now, especially in the Pac-12, where there's a multitude of professional sports teams vying for those same fans, there is a severe lacking in that experience. And if I were Larry Scott, I'd gather my ADs and re-focus on building the actual fanbase, not the virtual one.

If I were the commissioner of any conference, I'd be doing the same thing. It's time to bring the focus back to the fan.

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