Stanford-Washington was the biggest college football game of the weekend, but it aired at 10:30 p.m. eastern time, much to the chagrin of east-coasters who like to sleep.
Rather than being an unfortunate scheduling quirk, this is actually intentional.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott told the Los Angeles Times last week that his conference and its TV partners love these late start times because there is less competition and more people watch as a result.
Here are Scott’s three main reasons why Pac-12 games are on so late.
1. Football fans have nothing else to watch. Said Scott, “It is actually an advantage for our conference. On any given Saturday there are 50-plus football games going on. There is a lot of dilution of the audience.”
This is unquestionably true.
Of the games involving top-25 teams this weekend, five are scheduled in the 12 p.m. time slot, five are scheduled in the early afternoon time slot, four are scheduled between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., one is scheduled at 8:30 p.m., and one is scheduled at 10:30 p.m. (UCLA-Cal).
While everyone can watch Pac-12 games that start at 3:30 p.m., the audience is fragmented due to competition. At 10:30 p.m., the total college football-watching audience is smaller, but it’s monolithic.
2. They get better ratings. “Truth is, they rate well. We get a lot of attention because there’s not a lot that is going on.”
The Stanford-Washington game got a 1.9 rating, which is in the same ballpark as the rating ESPN’s primetime games have been getting on Saturday night. That’s not bad considering the primetime games start between 7 p.m. eastern and 9 p.m. eastern. But it would have been interesting to see if it got a bigger rating at, say, 8 p.m.
3. They’re on late because ESPN wants it that way. “It is really our TV partners that like these. It’s part of the new TV deal, with the revenue we got and the commitment that every game would be available nationally. That meant playing eight weeknight games, Thursdays and Fridays. We’re playing more evening windows on Saturday.”
Basically, that means ESPN and Fox negotiated these late games into their contracts with the Pac-12.
Having a game at 10:30 p.m. allows ESPN to extend its slate of big-conference college football action an additional four hours. It also lets the network put more SEC action in primetime, which they love.
It’s objectively annoying for east coasters that these great Pac-12 games are on in the middle of the night. But there are rational reasons behind it.
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