The MAC & Sun Belt, Who Draws The Viewers?

Looking again at TV numbers this time, the measure is how well do games involving different teams do drawing an audience compared to the average audience of a network carrying similar games.

This time around I took games involving MAC, Sun Belt, and C-USA teams played on the ESPN networks against teams from MAC, Sun Belt, C-USA, MWC, as well as AAC teams that are not moving to the Big 10 or ACC. I excluded those games against teams in the ACC, Big 10, Big XII, Pac-12, and SEC as well as those moving to those leagues because those are all proven schools for drawing TV audiences and their games tend to land on the major networks in premium viewing windows. I have excluded the Fox Sports 1 games because they are almost all C-USA games and the audiences were generally smaller than the ESPN networks (for example AState vs. Troy on ESPNU was AState's least watched game but outdrew La.Tech vs. Tulane on FS1 on the same date at the same time).

I took all the appropriate games on ESPN and ESPN2 and calculated the average viewership then gave credit to each team in the game if the viewership was above or below the average. I then followed the same process for ESPNU where the games typically have more competition for viewers and are available in fewer homes.

A few observations.

In the Sun Belt only four games drew above the network average, AState at UL Lafayette, UL Monroe at AState, Louisiana at AState, FIU vs. FAU. That latter game goes a long way toward my decision to ignore FS1 games. This year's rematch on FS1 drew less than 1/5th the audience of the prior year's ESPNU game and was the second least watched FBS game on a national channel.

Northern Illinois had the most games above average as well as the most-watched games of our sample. Bowling Green only had one game vs. NIU so they are a draw on their own but drew a smaller audience than similar Arkansas State games except AState vs. Troy. One of Ball State's above average games was vs. NIU. Ohio's best viewed games were against Bowling Green and Ball State. One of Toledo's above average games was against NIU but another meeting was the only NIU game to not draw above average.

If a conference were looking at MAC and Sun Belt teams for expansion based not on market size but television audience delivered, Northern Illinois is the clear best choice. The second choice would be Arkansas State with a narrow advantage over Bowling Green.

Here is each rated school. First number is games they were in that drew above average audiences for the network, the second number is games below average.

Northern Illinois: 4-1
Bowling Green: 3-0
Arkansas State: 3-1
Ball State: 2-2
UL Lafayette: 2-3
Ohio: 2-3
Toledo: 2-3
FAU 1-0
FIU 1-0
Western Michigan 1-0
Central Michigan: 1-1
Buffalo 1-2
ULM 1-2
Miami OH 1-2
Kent State: 1-3
Akron: 0-1
Louisiana Tech: 0-1
North Texas 0-1
Western Kentucky: 0-2
Troy 0-3