In this playoff age of college football, bowl games don’t carry the weight they once did. That’s not a quote from Captain Obvious, but it could be.
This year, 42 were staged, two of them in a 17,000-seat soccer stadium in suburban Dallas and many in front of what seemed to be tens of fans. Tens of millions, however, watched from the comfort of their couches, a gaggle of mediocrity providing what’s become seasonal white noise, and Disney once again cashing checks with each stoppage in play.
(The white noise of a bowl game, any bowl game, reverberating through a house the week between Christmas and New Year’s is nice, don’t get me wrong.)
Disney now actually owns almost all of the bowl games outright, televises all but one of them, and its ESPN Events division even operates 22 of them. This plethora of postseason college football rewards mediocrity, sure, but it generates a lot of revenue.
The Standard Media Index estimates that Disney/ESPN lost $21.7 million in potential ad revenue when 14 bowls were canceled last year due to COVID, as reported by The Athletic. That’s likely less than a third of what could’ve been made, and the bowls that didn’t get played in 2020 were less lucrative ones, like the Bahamas Bowl and, to Hog fans’ chagrin, the Texas Bowl.
If no bowls had been played after the 2020 season, Disney was set to lose at least $800 million in ad revenue, it’s estimated. That’s the amount reaped in 2019 by Walt’s preserved head (presumably residing somewhere under Anaheim), per Sportico. And that doesn’t include ad revenue for streaming service ESPN+.
So, for Disney, the pathway to fulfill its Buy-N-Large destiny runs at least in part through the homes of college football fans nationwide. (Well, through fans South- and Midwest-wide, anyway.) Our entertainment-obsessed culture eats up sports, and 42 bowl games — whether there are 75,000 people in attendance or 75 — represent a lot of sponsorship opportunities to cash in and ad spots to place.
Forty-two, of course, also means that roughly two-thirds of the 130 teams playing at the highest level of college football (CFB) — the laboriously labeled Division 1 Football Bowl Series (FBS) — get to finish their seasons in bowls, where TV money rains swag bags like the summer monsoon in Sri Lanka.
Bowl season does retain some of its magic, though. Hog calls reverberating through the New Year’s Day sun in Tampa; seeing OU fans fill the Alamodome for Bob Stoops’ return as interim coach in the Alamo Bowl (regardless of how one might feel about OU or Stoops); a battle of Carolinas in Charlotte, 6-6 records and half empty stadium notwithstanding… And the big bowls, the New Year’s Six, will always be big deals.
For Arkansas, though, any bowl right now is a big deal emerging from the valley of the shadow of White/Long/Morris, and making a New Year’s Day bowl two years removed from it is remarkable.
The Outback Bowl payout for the Hogs was $6.4 million (the branding value coming out of that win much, much higher), and the way Sam Pittman has the program trending, Arkansas’ bowl contributions to the annual SEC pie stand to increase moving forward..
As always, thanks for reading. Here’s wishing everyone a healthy, happy and prosperous new year. Let me know how we’re doing, good or bad, at [email protected].I