Pac-12 Considering 12p EST Kick-Offs, Weighing Exposure & TV Revenue vs. Gate Attendance
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott told reporters at the conference’s media day gathering (on 7.25) that he would “like to see one or two games this season” kick off at 12p EST. The games, which would be played on campus (i.e. not at neutral site locations), would give the conference the opportunity to increase viewership in the Eastern Time Zone; Scott said that the conference's existing late-night time slots – and the resulting lack of exposure – have been a source of “a lot of frustration” amongst Pac-12 coaches and fans, who believe an ‘East Coast bias’ exists to their detriment. The Pac-12 commissioner will need a few athletic directors to buy-in to the idea, the conference has said it will not force a school to play in the morning time slot.
Howie Long-Short: The Pac-12’s (P12) failure to place a team in the College Football Playoff the last two seasons has increased the pressure on Larry Scott to position the conference for a return to the four-team tournament. One former College Football Playoff Committee member acknowledged that teams on the west coast playing late at night “get overlooked”, so re-scheduling games for times when a larger percentage of the population (and the Committee) is awake sounds logical – but it doesn’t solve the P12’s core issue; member institutions are fishing from a smaller pond. A lack of exposure isn’t keeping Pac-12 schools from making the CFP, their inability to field teams capable of finishing with less than two losses is.
Earlier start times would theoretically appeal to a greater percentage of fans in the Eastern Time Zone and despite the competition from the SEC, B1G and ACC, could also potentially result in a increased viewership; remember, games scheduled at noon EST benefit from the reach of broadcast television vs. the smaller pay-TV universe watching late night games. Former senior Fox Sports programming & strategy executive turned industry consultant Patrick Crakes said "the total gross viewers pool in the late window across ESPN, FS1 and P12N is 1.5 million to 2.5 million. A top-level interconference matchup at 12 EST could draw 3 million - but it would probably have to include one of the Los Angeles teams."
The P12 would be making the move to appease alumni and media members on the East Coast, but former CBS Sports President Neal Pilson doesn’t believe that a 12p EST start will crush ratings in the Mountain and Pacific Time Zones. He reminds that the “folks out West are used to early starts. The NFL starts games at 10a PST on Sundays.”
CollegeFootballTalk’s Bryan Fischer reported that schools located in the Mountain Time Zone would be “chief candidates” to test out the viability of a morning kickoff. That makes sense. The conference should figure out if 10a is feasible before it looks to make 9a work.
Ratings aside, Pilson believes that creating inventory for the 12p EST time slot makes a lot of sense from a media rights standpoint. He said, “ultimately the value of the remaining Pac-12 game inventory rises if its teams are getting regular exposure at 12p EST and inevitably Scott will be able to command more money from their current partners - or another network will bid for the conference’s games playing in that window.” He’s right and with 12p EST far more valuable than late nights, rights fees for those games should increase. The conference’s current Tier-1 rights holders – ESPN/ABC and Fox (which wants to put a marquee game in the timeslot) – are likely to have interest, but keep an eye on Turner/AT&T; the company is said to desperately want to acquire more premium sports rights.
Pac-12 fans have complained for years about hosting too many night games, but morning kickoffs likely weren’t what they had in mind. One former Big-12 (B12) athletic director was “certain that it’s going to be hard for schools to pull a live audience at 9a on a Saturday.” He speaks from experience. B12 schools in the Central Time Zone often host 11a local-time kickoffs and “nobody likes it – and that’s two hours later [than what the P12 is proposing].”
That same source was as concerned with the revenue that would be lost with a 9a kickoff as he was with the absence of a raucous home crowd. With ticketing revenues remaining “an important part of athletic department proceeds” and schools having just 6 or 7 home games to monetize, the thought of willingly foregoing revenues would seem like “a tough sell for athletic directors already up against the budget.”
Fan Marino: Proponents of Scott’s idea point to schools like Arizona, that practice in the early morning before temperatures get too hot in the desert, and claim that kicking off at 12p EST wouldn’t have a negative impact on a student athlete’s routine – or on the team’s on-field performance. The former CFP Committee member we spoke to disagrees. He said, “home field advantage is exacerbated with an unusual game-time, particularly when the home team is playing a team that traveled several hours the day before” (which is often the case). As for the athlete’s well-being, Wazzu Coach Mike Leach said that his players would have to rise at 4:30a to follow their existing pre-game routine for a 9a kickoff. I have a difficult time imaging athletes lacking sleep - even at 20 years old - are going to perform to the best of their abilities.
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