ESPN has signed on Dr Pepper as the first official Championship Partner of the College Football Playoff series, which kicks off on Jan. 1 in Pasadena and New Orleans.
College football’s oft-derided Bowl Championship Series went out on a high note Monday night, as the thrilling Florida State-Auburn showdown proved to be one of the most-watched programs in cable history.
Outlined against a California sky the color of Frank Sinatra’s irises, the Seven Horsemen of Notre Dame’s defensive front line rode again. In a show of grit that would have left Grantland Rice scrambling for the Roget’s, the Irish on Nov.
Despite the name and the venue, the game formerly known as the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl is anything but small potatoes. Rechristened the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl earlier this summer, this mid-December college football game is only the second of the 33 bowls ESPN/ABC Sports will air over the course of the next three weeks. And while no one expects the Ohio-Utah State showdown to deliver Bowl Championship Series-size ratings, the Potato Bowl is big business for Boise. On Aug. 3, the Idaho Potato Commission signed a six-year, $2.5 million deal for the naming rights to the Humanitarian Bowl, a cold-weather contest that pits a team from the Western Athletic Conference against a Mid-American Conference squad. In addition to the brand exposure that comes with the sponsorship—signage throughout Boise’s blue-turfed Bronco Stadium, multiple mentions by ESPN announcers Dave Flemming and Mike Bellotti, etc.—the IPC receives nine 30-second in-game spots. ESPN’s so-called “baby bowls” are package deals; rather than sell time in individual allotments, the network places clients across its entire postseason college football schedule. So while the spudtacular may have limited appeal outside the WAC and MAC footprints, national advertisers such as Geico, Walmart, McDonald’s, Capital One, American Airlines, and Lexus are well represented here. Because the title sponsors are allotted between eight and 10 spots in their showcase games, inventory in the early bowl games is artificially tightened. Spots went particularly fast in this year’s upfront, as ESPN aggressively positioned college football as an alternative to an endangered National Football League season. The strategy paid off. By August, Ed Erhardt, ESPN’s president of customer marketing and sales, had sold out almost all available spots in the baby bowls and the five BCS games (Rose, Fiesta, Sugar, Orange, and the National Championship Game). While there are scores of floridly titled small-conference games to wade through before the BCS bowls—Tuesday night’s Beef ‘O’ Brady’s St. Petersburg Bowl pairs Florida International and Marshall—all that inventory adds up rather nicely for ESPN. According to agency estimates, ESPN last year raked in more than $325 million in total bowl game ad sales revenue. Naturally, the real money starts rolling in after New Year’s Day. Last year’s Rose Bowl contest delivered 20.6 million viewers, while Auburn’s 22-19 win over Oregon in the Jan. 10 BCS title game delivered a cable-record 27.3 million viewers. According to Kantar Media estimates, a :30 in the national championship broadcast can run as much as $1.15 million a pop; a spot in one of the lead-in bowls costs around $670,000. A rematch of the November’s grudge match between No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama, the Jan. 9 BCS title game could prove to be another ratings blockbuster. After weeks of hype, the Tigers’ 9-6 victory on Nov. 5 drew 20 million viewers, making it the most-watched regular season college football game on CBS in 22 years.