Who Watches All Those Games?

In the never ending debate and discussion of conference realignment there is a great deal of talk about how much money the TV contracts of the five conferences in the so-called Group of 5 brings in. What no one talks about is whether anyone is watching those games.

I've decided to tackle this question since there has been a lot of speculation about the future value of the TV contracts, especially the contracts of Conference USA, Mid-American Conference and the Mountain West Conference which are set to expire in 2016.

In looking at the numbers a few things leap out.

One the network you are on makes a big difference. A school may draw a nice audience on ESPN or ESPN2 and a small audience on ESPNU, ESPNNews or Fox Sports 1. In order to better get a picture of the true viewership for schools I omitted all games involving teams from the ACC, Big 10, Big XII, Pac-12, SEC because those schools draw large audiences for almost all games. I also omitted games against BYU because BYU draws audiences similar to mid-level schools in those top 5 leagues. In inter-conference games I counted the entire audience for both conferences. One last wrinkle. Games on CBS Sports network are excluded because CBSS lacks sufficient market and audience to be included in national ratings. It is reasonable to assume that excluding those games on the whole benefits CUSA's average audience numbers.

The calculation is straight forward. I totaled the audience for each game involving a league excluding the non-conference against the P5 and BYU and divided by the number of games.

AAC. Average audience 652,000. Most watched Louisville-Cincinnati 2,220,000. Least watched Temple-Memphis 13,000
MWC. Average audience 591,000. Most watched Fresno-Boise 2,120,000. Least watched UNLV-Utah State 75,000
MAC. Average audience 504,000. Most watched Ohio-Louisville (inter-conference) 1,760,000. Least watched Ohio-Marshall (inter-conference) 76,000.
Sun Belt. Average audience 252,000. Most watched Arkansas StateUL Lafayette 767,000. Least watched TroyULM 73,000.
CUSA. Average audience 139,000. Most watched Southern MissBoise State (inter-conference) 329,000. Least watched FIU-FAU 46,000.

All of these numbers are based on current conference membership. Now let's adjust those numbers to reflect that Tulsa, Tulane, and East Carolina move to the AAC, Western Kentucky moves to CUSA, Rutgers moves to the Big 10, and Louisville moves to the ACC.

Apply the same rules and what do we get?

We get a big shift as the AAC loses its biggest TV draw.

MWC. Average audience 612,000. Most watched Fresno-Boise 2,120,000. Least watched UNLV-Utah State 75,000.
MAC. Average audience 414,000. Most watched Toledo-NIU 1,050,000. Least watched Ohio – Marshall (inter-conference) 86,000.
AAC. Average audience 369,700. Most watched UCF-USF 1,220,000. Least watched Temple-Memphis 13,000.
Sun Belt. Average audience 269,000. Most watched Louisiana-AState 767,000. Least watched Troy – ULM 73,000.
CUSA. Average audience 157,600. Most watched WKU – Louisiana 456,000. Least watched FIU-FAU 46,000.

The bottom line for the CUSA TV deals is that they are getting good money but that money was based on a CUSA that included UCF, Houston, SMU, Memphis, Tulane, East Carolina, and Tulsa who are all gone. The most watched CUSA game on FS1 was ECU-FAU at 181,000. The second most watched Tulsa-Marshall with 155,000, the third most watched was Tulsa-UTEP at 148,000 and the fourth most watched Tulane – La.Tech at 124,000. CUSA's best viewership on FS1 for CUSA conference games were all games featuring departing teams.

Arkansas State's game against Louisiana was the 15th most watched G5 conference game of the 70 games featuring teams playing other G5 teams. The week before Louisiana vs. WKU drew 456,000 viewers compared to the 767,000 who watched AState vs. Louisiana. AState vs. Troy was the 14th most watched of the 22 ESPNU games. The game drew 137,000 viewers. Troy's game against ULL drew 101,000 and Troy's game against ULM drew only 73,000 viewers.