Chris Petersen got fists silently pumping across Pac-12 country this week when he voiced a complaint many in the league have held for years: these games are too damn late.
All five of Washington’s games this season have kicked off after 5 p.m. local time, and Saturday’s tilt — at home against California — begins at 7:45 p.m. in Seattle. Next week’s game at Arizona State also starts at 7:45 p.m. Pacific time, meaning Washington will have to wait until Oct. 28 at the earliest to play their first day game. And he’s tired of it.
“I just want to say something to our fans: We apologize for these late games. And I’d also like to reiterate it has nothing to do with us or the administration,” Petersen said. “We want to play at 1 p.m. It hurts us tremendously in terms of national exposure. No one wants to watch our game on the East Coast that late, and we all know it. We haven’t had a kickoff before 5 p.m. this season.
“And so it’s painful for our team, it’s painful for our administration, and we know certainly the most important part is for our fans.”
As frustrated as he is, Petersen (and, presumably, his 11 colleagues in the Pac-12) is resigned to accept that the status quo isn’t changing.
“I don’t think they even kind of care about my voice, or probably any of the coaches’ voices. I don’t think there is one coach out there, or probably school, in the West that wants to play our games at late night and all of that. Everyone wants to play in the daytime.
“I don’t think we’re going to play any early games. We’re not counting on it. That is how it goes in our league.”
The topic came up on College GameDay on Saturday and Kirk Herbstreit came out strongly in his employer’s corner.
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) October 7, 2017
“The reality is, as an advocate on this show for the Pac-12 for the last 20 years, wanting to try to bring as much exposure to that conference as we can, you should be thanking ESPN for actually having a relationship thanks to Larry Scott with the Pac-12 because your games are seen. Before, there was a black hole when it came to the Pac-12 and now, you can actually tune into the Pac-12 and see them if you live in the ACC or the SEC or the Big Ten. So I understand [Petersen’s] point but be careful. Would you rather be on at 3:30 on the Pac-12 Network eastern when nobody’s watching?”
Who’s in the right here? Who’s in the wrong? Well, nobody really.
Washington has played late kicks on ESPN, but it’s also played late kicks on Fox Sports 1 and Pac-12 Networks. That’s not ESPN’s fault. And it’s not ESPN’s fault that the Pac-12 signed contracts with the Worldwide Leader and Fox for carriage agreements worth $3 billion in 2011 — a record amount for a TV rights deal at the time.
The Pac-12 isn’t giving any of those checks back, and both ESPN and Fox have agreements with the other conferences, too. If night kicks are that big of a deal, the league can allow its agreements with ESPN and Fox to expire here in a few years and control their kick times on its wholly-owned network. But we all know that isn’t going to happen. And we all know ESPN isn’t going to show LSU-Auburn at 10:30 p.m. ET so Washington can kickoff in the daylight.
Another reason we know the Pac-12 isn’t going to turn down ESPN and Fox’s money next time around? The data shows that, inconvenient as they may be, the late night kicks actually help the league’s exposure. From the Seattle Times:
Last year, not only was the average national audience bigger for late-night Pac-12 games, the East/Central region audiences (defined as everything east of the Rockies) were bigger, too. Early Pac-12 kickoffs drew 60 percent of their audience from the East/Central region versus 40 percent from the Pacific region. Late Pac-12 kickoffs, meanwhile, drew 65 percent of their audience from the East/Central versus 35 percent from the Pacific.
In other words, viewership from the Eastern and Central time zones didn’t shrink for games starting after 9 p.m. — they grew. The reason? Simple. Fans don’t have any other games to watch.
So, what can be done here? Not much, but there is one obvious solution the league could do today that would alleviate some of the problem. The conference owns the Pac-12 Networks completely, which means that, in theory, the athletics departments should have complete control over those kick times. The Pac-12 should make all Pac-12 Networks games be daytime kicks. This would get its players and fans home early at least once or twice a season, and it makes business sense, too. The Pac-12 has ESPN and Fox all to itself after 10 p.m. — for better or worse, no other league has its own time slot like that — so why compete against yourself?
ESPN poured salt on the wound during Washington’s 38-7 destruction of California by doing this stunt:
In case you wanted to see the cupcake schedule thing for yourself: pic.twitter.com/U5RXEqwRDi
— Kevin Shockey (@KevinShockey) October 8, 2017
Afterward, Petersen waived the white flag on this debate, one that neither side won and neither side lost.
“I think we just need to move on to a new topic,” Petersen said. “Let’s pick something next week that we can really care about. I think we beat this one up enough.”
The Huskies will visit Arizona State next week, at 7:45 p.m. local time, on — you guessed it — ESPN.