Skip to main content

Bowl attendance down, TV ratings up

The 35-game bowl season wrapped up Monday night and, with the season officially complete, attendance figures and TV ratings are now fully available. The conclusion: much like the regular season, fans are buying fewer tickets in favor of the couch and flat screen. 

Jon Solomon of the Birmingham News reported Tuesday that, for the second straight year, bowl attendance has hit a record low. The bowls averaged 49,222 fans, down slightly from last year, and the lowest total since 1978-79. 

Meanwhile, ESPN recorded its best bowl slate of all-time. The BCS Championship was the second-highest rated telecast in cable TV history, and the five-game BCS package averaged more than 15 million viewers, up seven percent from last year. Additionally, the Chick-fil-A Bowl and Outback Bowl were the network's second and fourth most watched non-BCS games in ESPN history, respectively. The 28 non-BCS bowls were collectively averaged a 2.3 rating, up from 2.2 in 2011-12.

What conclusions should we draw from this?

The BCS commissioners, who wrangled control of the bowl system over the past year, are going to take an even tighter grip on college football's postseason. 

"Since we've made such a significant change with the playoff, it's a perfect time to look at the bowls and how they work," SEC commissioner Mike Slive said this week. "This is a very good time to take a hard look at how we do our bowl relationships and see if there's a better way."

According to Stewart Mandel of, that means conferences will have more of a say in where their teams play. 

"According to one source," Mandel writes," the conference collaboration... may consist of a format like this: Over a six-year cycle, the Big Ten and Big 12 might share spots in the Holiday (San Diego) and Kraft Fight Hunger (San Francisco) bowls, with each league playing three seasons in both."

There's also talk of changing the way tickets are sold in bowl games. For years, participating schools have traditionally been required to purchase a large number of tickets (often 17,500 for the bigger games) at prices well above street value and be forced to eat the losses. For instance, Florida State reportedly sold less than a third of its allotment for the Orange Bowl, and Nebraska moved only 4,000 tickets to the Capital One Bowl. 

Now, that risk may get transferred may become shared between the schools and bowls. 

"Everybody wants the ticket allocations to be managed differently," said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. "Bowls feel one way about it and schools and conferences feel another way. We'll have to hit on some middle ground."

Now with only one season standing in the way of sweeping reform to the way college football conducts its postseason, it's imperative to be aware of what those changes will entail.