The college football bowl season starts on Saturday with six games with off the bat. If we include the college football playoff championship game, there are now 41 bowl games that will be competed in by 80 schools.
The reason there are so many bowl games has little to do with demand, as many of these games will be played in half-empty stadiums and will receive TV ratings that will look poor compared to most major sporting events. The real reason gets back to who has the most invested in the bowl games: ESPN and its parent company, Disney.
Of the 41 games, 36 will be broadcast by ESPN or one of its sister networks, ABC and ESPN2. The reason ESPN is willing to pay to broadcast as many bowl games as possible is that live sports is what makes ESPN the king of cable, and the bowl games fill empty time slots. To up the ante, ESPN’s subsidiary, ESPN Events, now owns 13 of the bowl games, according to USA Today, up from just three bowl games 12 years ago.
But while ESPN still dominates the bowl game landscape, it looks like Fox and CBS have taken notice and want more of the action. Those two networks and their respective sister-networks, will air five bowl games this season. As recently as 2014, non-Disney networks aired just a single bowl game.
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