Is College Football Moving to Monday Night?

Predictions on the future of college football, the NFL and broadcast sports

A few weeks ago we watched the first regular season collegiate football game broadcast on Monday night. The Ohio State University Buckeyes travelled to Virginia Tech in a grudge match to avenge the National Champion’s only lost in 2014. The back story was enough to make it the game of the week and ESPN moved it to Monday night to increase ratings.

College football on Monday nights? Isn’t that the NFL’s spot?

It’s a trend we could be seeing more of. The College Football Playoff (CFP) committee placed the first ever National Championship Game on a Monday night in 2015. It’s a move that paid off. The game became the most viewed cable event EVER with over 33 million viewers. A huge win for college football.

The Rose Bowl (Oregon Ducks versus Florida State Seminoles) and Sugar Bowl (Alabama Crimson Tide versus Ohio State Buckeyes) semifinals on New Year’s Day were the highest-rated programs in cable history up until that point with over 28 million viewers. More impressive is that both games had more viewers than three out of four NFL Wild Card playoff games that weekend.

“We were delighted,” said Bill Hancock, the President of the CFP. “These numbers exceeded our expectations.”

What does this trend mean for college football, the NFL and broadcast sports? Here are three predictions:

Prediction #1 — More college football games will be broadcast in prime time slots.

Maybe college football isn’t satisfied to sit back and allow the NFL to control all the prime viewing spots anymore. They saw an opportunity once Monday Night Football (MNF) was finished for the season to host their National Championship Game. Now they’re taking advantage of pre-MNF to slot big games.

It feels like college football is finally standing up and saying, “Our games are just as entertaining as NFL games. We should have access to prime time slots as well.” That may be true, but even at a record audience of 33 million for the National Championship Game, it’s still a fraction of the SuperBowl’s 111 million viewers. And a fraction of the revenue.

The NFL began talk this year of expanding their wild card play off games by two additional teams. They would need two additional television spots to host the games and ideally those would be Mondays. However, it would conflict directly with the CFP’s agreement with ESPN to host the National Championship Game.

Hancock went out of his way to make their position clear,

“We picked Monday night because it was open and it was the best night for our game. We announced that in June 2012. We established that our game was going to be on Monday nights for the next 12 years.”

College is leveraging the entertainment value of pure sport and student athletes against their older brother. That older brother may not be able to push them around any more.

Prediction #2 — Live events will generate 90% of broadcast television’s revenue.

Most day-to-day television is consumed on demand. DVR, Netflix, HBO Now, Hulu, etc. I can’t remember the last time I watched a commercial while watching “The Walking Dead” or “House of Cards.” The ONLY time I watch commercials and am OKAY with it is during live sporting events.

Attention is being pushed to the extremes. Viewers are no longer tolerating commercials during their mid-week programming. However, live events, including season finales, are creating the largest ad buys we’ve ever seen. The 2015 SuperBowl pulled over $4 million for a 30 second spot. The National Championship Game $1 million per 30 seconds. Both still bargins in many opinions.

The NFL has been expanding their reach for years. From MNF, to Saturday playoff games to its recent Sunday Night (SNF) and Thursday Night Football (TNF) packages. As television networks see more and more of their revenue wrapped up in live events, I’m convinced we’ll have significant football games every night of the week in the near future.

Prediction #3 — The debate about student athletes getting paid for sport is only beginning.

College football moving as many games as it can to prime time nights is only going to heighten the conversation about student athletes getting paid… and maybe the relevance of collegiate academics at all.

Traditionally, students can be in school through the week, travel to a game on Saturday and be back for classes on Monday. So what happens when the game is on Monday night? They miss classes that day and the following day. Now were making statements about the value of entertainment over academics and what those students are really at school to do.

Virginia Tech cancelled classes this year for their Monday night game against the Buckeyes.

“To be honest, I don’t think anyone was going to be going to class that day anyway,” Virginia Tech cornerback Kendal Fuller said. “I seriously doubt it. If someone was going to class, kudos to them.”

As tuitions shoot up into the atmosphere of irrelevance, collegiate athletics are becoming more important than ever. What’s not working right now in college is large student loans. What is working is sports broadcasts. Could college really just be about sport?

College football hosting their first regular season game on Monday night was an interesting move. A move that tells us a lot about sports, broadcast television and overall attention in America. It’s a trend that’s only beginning as both students and pros race to create space for more and more prime time audiences.

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