A question of timing: College football
■ Question: Why did the Michigan-Wisconsin game kick off at noon ET on Nov. 18? How could it not have been a 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff? This was Fox’s best game by far — better than Maryland-Michigan State at 4 p.m. ET and California-Stanford at 8 p.m. ET. What was Fox thinking? Did they schedule this to try to get viewers away from ESPN, which put “College GameDay” in Madison?
Answer: I reached out to a Fox source who told me that the decision came down to the network’s rights deals with the Big Ten and Pac-12, not ESPN’s pregame show. The source said Fox is obligated contractually to do a certain number of Pac-12 games on broadcast television. It also is limited contractually with how many Big Ten games it can carry in prime time late in the season.
Those two factors are the main reason why it put a Pac-12 game that wasn’t its best game of the day in prime time on Nov. 18 (California-Stanford). Fox is expected to face a similar situation this weekend when a Pac-12 game is in prime time and Ohio State-Michigan is scheduled for noon ET.
Last weekend’s Wisconsin-Michigan game involved two top-25 teams with rabid fan bases that would do well in any time slot. Until Fox is better established as a go-to place for college football, it will prioritize “owning” some of the weaker windows rather than competing head-to-head in more competitive ones.
The source also suggested that the Wisconsin-Michigan game would have been a more effective lead-in to the Maryland-Michigan State game than the other way around. “If the two games were reversed I think both might rate a little lower.”
As it moves forward with a college football schedule in coming years, it’s a good bet that Fox carries fewer games in prime time.