People bitch and moan about the plethora of bowl games and the lack of enough decent teams to fill them -- but still tune in to watch.
So far during the prelims of the 2008-09 Bowl Season, ESPN has seen a sharp spike in ratings. Excluding the two new bowls that started this year (EagleBank--St. Petersburg), the eight bowl games that were on ESPN and ESPN2 through Dec. 27th averaged over a million more viewers than in 2007.
ESPN pulled down an average of 4.6 million viewers for their Las Vegas/New Orleans/Poinsettia/Hawaii/Meinke Car Care/Champs/Emerald Bowl extraveganza.
That is a 44% increase over the average of 3.2 million viewers for that string of bowl games in 2007.
Obviously matchups have an effect. For instance the Hawaii Bowl saw their tv viewership more than double from 2007 -- thanks to Notre Dame. More than 4.4 million tuned in to watch the Irish bitch slap Hawaii 49-21. That was up 119% from the 2007 number of viewers who watched East Carolina vs. Boise State.
The Champs Sports Bowl between Florida State and Wisconson is easily the most-watched bowl so far with over 7 million people tuning in to watch the Seminoles run rings around another Big 10 team. That number was up over 50% from those who watched Boston College vs. Michigan State last year.
The Poinsettia Bowl benefited from it's Top 15 match as well. TCU's win over Boise State drew a 3.2 rating with over 5.1 million viewers, which was an increase of 115% over the numbers pulled in by the 2007 game between Utah and Navy.
ESPN owns outright six of the minor bowls, and they will take over the BCS in a couple of years. They like the system right now with its cheap, live programming. When the BCS championship game moves to ESPN, college football will be the first of the major sports to have its championship game on cable rather than broadcast TV.
The consensus is that almost 90% of U.S. Households pay for cable or satellite service. That means roughly 14 million households have TV sets with antennas. How the BCS championship series does then will be watched carefully by an awful lot of network and sports executives. The last four World Series are the four lowest rated ever, with the 2008 Phillies-Rays series drawing a record low 8.4 rating. The NBA finals get about the same rating now. ABC already has the NBA finals, so a move to ESPN wouldn't be much of a shock. Major League Baseball already has a lot of their postseason games on cable.