The 11th-oldest college postseason bowl game, the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, recently lost its primary sponsor, Camping World, for the 2017 season. Citing a downturn in television ratings the past two years in conjunction with poor value for money, Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis stated, “When we looked at the economics and the return on investment, we came back to them and said…‘we don’t see the value at this number.’”
Camping World did make a $550,000 offer for its 2017 sponsorship of the event (down from the $1 million planned), but it was unanimously rejected by the Independence Bowl’s executive committee. The 2016 game between Vanderbilt and NC State drew a 1.27 television rating, which ranked lowest among post-Christmas bowls.
While the Independence Bowl having to search for an 8th sponsor since 1990 is noteworthy in-and-of-itself, a larger story are the potential ripples that emanate from this move. The slate of postseason bowl games remained at 41 in 2016 (the same as 2015), but has swollen dramatically from 18 over the past two decades. To support this type of expansion, quality has not remained consistent across games, evidenced by the fact that 25% of teams participating in the 2016-2017 bowl season had non-winning records.
If mediocre teams are playing meaningless games in faraway places at obscure times (e.g. Miami Beach Bowl, played between Central Michigan and Tulsa at 2:30pm on a Monday in a baseball stadium) just to fill-out the bowl lineup card, can it be a surprise when sponsors start to wonder about the value of their investments? And, with the four-team college football playoff system creating a situation where all but three games have little bearing for anyone outside a school’s fanbase, the current set-up of companies paying sometimes-millions of dollars in bowl sponsorships seems like a bubble bound to burst.
|Getting Their Money’s Worth?
2016-2017 Lowest Rated FBS Bowl Games
|Miami Beach Bowl||City of Miami||794K||Tulsa/C. Michigan|
|Potato Bowl||Idaho Potato Commission||1.143m||Idaho/Colorado St.|
|Independence Bowl||Camping World||1.27m||Vanderbilt/NC State|
|New Orleans Bowl||R+L Carriers||1.335m||Southern Miss/UL Lafayette|
|Hawaii Bowl||Sheraton Hotels||1.359m||Hawaii/Middle Tenn.|
|*A point of comparison: In its 13th season, medical drama Grey’s Anatomy averaged 7m viewers/week in spring 2016|
The payoff for companies sponsoring the vast majority of non-playoff bowl games is coming under scrutiny. This is in part because of the lessening quality of teams involved, declining attendance, and falling television ratings. While the economics of the actual return on investment is difficult to precisely quantify, companies (like Camping World) dropping their bowl sponsorships, in conjunction with the eye-test when looking at the current bowl game status quo, seems to suggest a significant change might be on the horizon.
Francis Giknis joins College AD as a contributor after seven years of teaching and coaching throughout the east coast. Prior to writing for College AD, Francis earned an English degree from the College of William and Mary and his masters at Columbia University. Raised in a cable television-free household, he remembers binge-watching ESPN while on vacations away from home, much to the chagrin of his parents.