The Largest, Most Attractive Fan Base in Sports
For marketers, college is the place to be, as intercollegiate athletics continues to grow in fan interest and value.
Examined in every key metric, college sports are more popular than ever. The highly attractive college sports fan base - the biggest in sports and growing - is driving sponsor participation, the launch of new conference networks, and media rights increases. All told, the entire industry has invested $25.5 billion to college rights fees over the next 15 years. For its part, IMG's multi-billion dollar rights commitments to our university and conference partners over the next decade demonstrate a steadfast bullishness on the value of the college space and our pride in serving our nation's institutions of higher learning.
The booming business of college sports continues to show significant promise due to one simple reason: all those people watching, attending games, cheering, purchasing school merchandise, and supporting the institutions of higher education so important to our society. All told, the fans of college sports comprise the largest, wealthiest, most diverse, and best educated base audience in all of sports.
Beyond their massive numbers, college sports fans are intensely passionate about their school teams. College graduates exhibit off-the-charts loyalty to their respective schools, a connection that carries over to supporting team sponsors. The tight bonds between fans and schools endure a lifetime. People may change homes and cities; they'll never trade the name of their alma mater on their diplomas.
"Pride" and "pageantry" aptly describe college sports. The games are thrilling, for sure (there's a reason "buzzer beater" originated on the college basketball floor). Beyond the drama unfolding for ten months of the year on fields and courts across America, the inimitable pomp and circumstance - brassy bands, colorful mascots, flying cheerleaders, boisterous fight songs and post-game parties - helps explain why more fans (more than 114 million last year) attend college events than any other sport. (Five of IMG College's football school partners averaged 100,000 fans every game last season.) The entire crowd-pleasing experience of college sports events has been noted by the experts - sports executives who present the teams and leagues to sponsors and media partners. These professionals ranked college football tops in best in-person experience, according to a 2012 Turnkey survey. College basketball ranked third. (The NHL was number two.)
The fun, folksy traditions surrounding the games serve to bring attention to the true heroes on the field, student athletes "playing for the name on the front rather than the back of the jersey." With students as the star attraction, fans perceive and value college sports in distinct ways. College sports bring feelings of "Tradition," "Pride," "Sportsmanship" and a "Sense of Belonging," fans tell us in surveys. In our fast-moving, cynical world, these wholesome American values fuel college fans' desire to soak up just about everything linked to their favorite university teams.
Consider the unparalleled bonds to colleges, the respect for hard-working student athletes, the intense regional pride universities engender, and the sheer fun and energy of college sports. It's no surprise more people attended college events than any other sport, or bought more college team apparel in the past year than the gear of any other sports property. Or, that two of the three most viewed sports championships in 2012 (the BCS and Final 4) were competitions among American universities.
Yes, college sports have the most fans... and for all the right reasons.
"College sports provide more money for scholarships than any single source outside of the federal government."
The 2012 season was a coming out party of sorts for college football, and the parties raged every Saturday night. College football owned Saturdays: as the #1 or #2-rated Saturday primetime program for 14 consecutive weeks all season long; seven times this fall college football was #1 show of all programming on Saturday night.
The Notre Dame vs. USC game one Saturday evening in November exemplified the dominance of college football on TV. The game drew more than 16 million viewers - nearly four times the audience of the #2 program that night.
The Bowl Season continued college football's momentum. Many Bowl games enjoyed massive jumps in viewership.
ESPN's 17.5 Nielsen coverage area rating for Alabama vs. Notre Dame BCS National Championship was up 7% from the 2012 title game... the highest rating for any cable program in the past two years. (This means the two most-viewed single night programs in the history of Cable television are college football games.)
The Rose Bowl and Discover Orange Bowl earned a combined 7.7 overnight Nielsen rating, averaging 13.7 million viewers, an 11% increase in audience over the last year's games.
The Rose Bowl Game was the most-viewed program on cable TV outside of ESPN's NFL games since the 2012 BCS National Championship (which was #1), averaging 17 million viewers, and a 9.4 rating.
The Orange Bowl spiked sharply - averaging 10.5 million viewers and a 6.1 rating, up 36% in rating and 47% in viewership over 2012.
Fox's 7.5 rating for the AT&T Cotton Bowl marked the net's best-ever rating for the game, up 60% from last year. ABC's Capital One Bowl drew 10.9 million viewers and a 6.6 rating, increases of 35% in viewers and 29% in the overnight rating.
The Outback Bowl telecast averaged 7.6 million viewers on a 4.3 rating, a very strong 69% increase in viewers.
The Allstate Sugar Bowl was up slightly over last year with a 6.4 overnight Nielsen rating.
Overall, ESPN's broadcasts of five BCS bowl games tallied an average of 15,131,000 viewers, up 7% over last year.