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Volume 23 No. 23
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CFP: Celebrating at 6

Sports executives talk hits, misses and the future as playoff reaches midpoint of a 12-year ESPN deal.
Loud and colorful fans — like those from LSU, which won this year’s title game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans — plus the largest annual cable audiences and enhanced revenue streams for college athletics have made the CFP a smashing success.
Photo: getty images
Loud and colorful fans — like those from LSU, which won this year’s title game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans — plus the largest annual cable audiences and enhanced revenue streams for college athletics have made the CFP a smashing success.
Photo: getty images
Loud and colorful fans — like those from LSU, which won this year’s title game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans — plus the largest annual cable audiences and enhanced revenue streams for college athletics have made the CFP a smashing success.
Photo: getty images

There’s no place in college football like the sidelines of a College Football Playoff championship game an hour before kickoff: Athletic directors and conference commissioners, ESPN executives and Hollywood celebrities, business allies and rivals — all roaming the same turf before the biggest game of the season.

The scene reflects how, in a relatively short span of six years, the CFP national championship game has become college football’s Super Bowl, annually ranking as the most-viewed cable telecast of the year.

“The CFP has been the driver in significantly increasing the popularity of college football,” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said.

Now halfway through its 12-year deal with ESPN, the CFP also has had a few misses. New Year’s Eve, it turns out, is not the right night for the semifinals. Silicon Valley is not a college football hotbed. And two weeks is too long between semifinals and finals.

And hovering above the fray is the specter of expansion from four to six or eight teams.

SBJ talked to more than a dozen sports executives last week to get their thoughts on the CFP at 6.

HITS

“Maybe the most important decision the CFP had to make was to take the four best teams, not necessarily conference champions.” — Jeff Long, Kansas AD, former selection committee chair

“The CFP brand logo is very clean and very recognizable. It’s great brand identity.” — Jennifer Carper, veteran sports marketer

“Over the first six years, you’ve put different teams into the hopper and the TV numbers are largely consistent. That speaks to the fandom for college football, in general.” — Karen Brodkin, executive vice president, content strategy and development, Endeavor

“The enhanced revenue stream from the ESPN agreement is significantly greater than the final broadcast agreement of the BCS. In a world of rising costs to operate college athletics, the increased dollars are critical.” — Mike Thomas, vice president, COO, CarrSports, former AD

“CFP’s embracing of new technologies and innovations has been a net positive. Mobile ticketing, fan engagement and activations like the Nike AR experience have been well received by the fans.” — Lawton Logan, partner, Maven Capital Advisors; principal, The Whitener Company

“We have a system that protects and values the regular season, protects the conference championship games and supports a viable bowl system. The CFP is doing exactly what it is designed to do.” — Keith Gill, Sun Belt commissioner

MISSES

“The CFP needs to settle on consistent days and start times. By not establishing a consistent cadence, the CFP has not yet become rooted as an American tradition the way that it should be. Viewer eyeballs and habits need to be trained over a period of time.” — Vince Thompson, CEO, MELT

“There has been a double standard for (Group of 5 ) teams regarding playoff access and the overall CFP rankings. G5 branding versus P5 appears to have influenced the rankings and the strength of schedule determinations. That ‘divide’ is not supposed to matter when making evaluations, but it does seem to matter.” — Mike Aresco, AAC commissioner

“Scheduling remains a challenge. The timeframe between semifinals and finals is a mystery from year to year. It is hard to build on the momentum coming out of compelling semifinal games with such time gaps.” — Lawton Logan

THE FUTURE

“We are committed to exploring options for expanding the field and considering more consistency in the strength of schedule between conferences.” — Larry Scott

“ESPN has done a fantastic job on production and presentation with Megacast as well as with their overall promotion and marketing, but limitation to the shrinking cable platform and lack of reach needs to be addressed in the next go-around with a broadcast TV platform and a more ubiquitous and frictionless experience in digital streaming and mobile.” — Chris Bevilacqua, media consultant

“I like the concept of an expansion to eight teams, with each Power 5 champion, the two best at-large teams and the best team from the Group of 5. I know there are issues, but it makes the playoff more national and more inclusive.”— Mark Dyer, founder, CEO, Taymar Ventures

“It is imperative that strength of schedule is a weighted factor as part of the CFP selection process. Not all Power 5 conferences play the same number of conference games.” — Mike Thomas

“Limit the national championship game to a 4-6 city rotation, allowing for geographic proximity of most fans, accessibility and predictability that will allow those cities to build legacy activities.” — Vince Thompson