With a season of airing BCS Bowl games under its belt, Fox Sports is not only set to expand upon last year’s successful debut, it is also hoping to make college football a full-time fixture on the network.
With four post-New Year’s games on its schedule, including the college football national championship game on Jan. 7 between LSU and Ohio St. as well as broadcasts of the Sugar, Fiesta and Orange Bowls on the docket, Fox has sold out its entire inventory for the slate of games, despite hefty increases on pricing. For the Sugar, Fiesta and Orange Bowls, the network priced each 30-second spot at $500,000 this year. The BCS National Championship game drew prices of $950,000, up from last year’s prices of around $800,000.
“We went into our first year similarly to how we approached our first year of NASCAR—we didn’t know what we had and we didn’t have a regular season to build up to it,” said Ed Goren, president of Fox Sports. “But fast-forward to this year and I feel a lot more confident of our strengths and what we have. It’s an eight-day marathon, but it feels good for us to be in this business.”
With a national audience paying attention, advertisers struck multiyear agreements last year with Fox to sponsor the games as part of Fox’s four-year deal with the BCS. Fox’s first broadcast of the championship, in which Florida stunned Ohio State in an upset, earning the network a 17.4 rating/27 share and an average audience of 28.8 million viewers.
The game ranks as the third-most-watched BCS contest in history. However, even that rating was down from the star-powered championship the previous year, a 21.7/35 juggernaut in which Texas and star Vince Young toppled USC and Reggie Bush in a back-and-forth match that went down to the wire.
As Fox producers prepare to fly across the country for the various matchups, Mr. Goren said there will be a concerted effort this year to focus on the students playing the games. He said the games will showcase not only a player’s plans once they leave school, but also what it feels like for many of the athletes to be playing the final game of their career.
The BCS games launch two months of a sports-heavy slate for the network, which will have NFL playoffs, the Super Bowl and the Daytona 500 on deck through February.
With rights to leagues such as the heavyweight Southeastern Conference coming available for the 2009 season, Mr. Goren said Fox is looking for opportunities to make college football a part of the network’s long-term plans. One key to that could be with the SEC, which enters the final year of its deal with CBS with the 2008 season.
“We would love to get a regular-season package, and I believe we could do a lot with it,” Mr. Goren said. “We talked about having a regular season for years, but unfortunately a lot of those deals don’t come on the market very often. That’s a hell of a testament to the health of college football in this country.”
The BCS drew particularly heavy fire from critics this season clamoring for a college playoff along the lines of the NCAA basketball tournament. With no two dominant teams, this will mark the first BCS Championship to feature a two-loss team in contention in LSU, along with a bevy of controversy over the selection process.
Mr. Goren, however, said those critics are short-sighted, noting the current system worked well for players in a BCS game.
“There are a lot of positives from the current setup, and we were thrilled to sign it,” he said. “The whole bowl experience for these kids is more than just a game, and players from five schools will go home champions instead of just one. That opportunity gives these kids a week’s worth of memories that last a lifetime.
“Having said that, however, I understand the concern to change the system. Our goal is to extend our relationship with the BCS and, if they see fit to provide an adjustment, we will be out to work with them in whatever form of games they decide.”