With the calendar turning to September, it is finally here – college football season. The fans aside, no one is more excited to have football back than the networks that deliver TV coverage. Perhaps the most exciting addition to college football is the rise of conference networks, which are still relatively new to the landscape. The Big Ten Network has seen great success thus far, since its creation in 2006 when it was the first cable start-up to receive 30 million subscribers in the first 30 days of existence (a good omen for the Pac-12 Network which launches this season). The Pac-12 has already taken this one step further with the development of the Pac-12 Digital Network, Pac-12Now, which will provide programming for PC’s, iPads and mobile devices so that football fans on the go can stay connected.
National channels will be boosting their coverage of college games this season, with Fox picking up more Saturday night games and NBC will be showing its Notre Dame “darlings” in two huge primetime night games (one versus the University of Miami [Fla.] at Soldier Field in Chicago, and the other being the University of Michigan rivalry game in Notre Dame stadium). ABC/ESPN and CBS will also be airing their usual number of games, but at a steeper price tag. For example, the SEC/Big 12 bowl game on New Year’s night was recently picked up by ABC/ESPN for $80 million, the same price as the historic Rose Bowl game to which ABC/ESPN also owns the rights. The networks are excited, the fans are even more excited (at least that’s what the networks hope), so what about the sponsors?
Expect to see the typical cast of characters (automakers, communication and insurance companies) to surround college football with their usual media plans, but also expect some new brands in the mix this year, as well. Principal Financial Group, for example, recently announced a brand new partnership with the Big Ten Conference for the next three years, surrounding football, basketball and select Olympic-type collegiate sporting events. Additionally, sports bar/restaurant, Buffalo Wild Wings (BW3), is also making a splash in the college game, taking over as the title sponsor for the former Insight Bowl. The deal for the Buffalo Wild Wings bowl game between the Big 12 and Big Ten teams also includes a re-designed trophy more aligned with the BW3 brand.
This is all great news for college football, especially in light of the continued frenzy of conference realignment. The latest shake up in college football has seen teams like TCU jumping to the Big 12 conference, Boise State joining the Big East conference and Missouri and Texas A&M jumping into the powerhouse gauntlet conference that is the SEC (best of luck). While, geographically speaking, these may not make the most sense (i.e., San Diego State is joining the Big East), they do create more intriguing match-ups and potential rivalries. And where there are rivalries, there are more fans, and more fans equal more opportunities for revenue and sponsors.
College football (its fans, media partners and sponsors) has plenty to be excited about this season, and that’s with anticipation already building for when the NCAA’s proposed playoff goes into effect for next year. The bottom line is that no matter whether it is college or pro, football still remains king in America. It’s been a long, hot summer, and I, like the rest of the country, am just glad football is finally back.