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Volume 23 No. 23
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Q&A: ESPN’s Dawson on CFP success, scheduling

Nick Dawson, an 18-year veteran at ESPN, is vice president for programming and acquisitions overseeing college football and basketball. He shares his thoughts on the College Football Playoff with Sports Business Journal:


It’s been said that ESPN puts more resources against the CFP than any other event. Think that’s right?
DAWSON: Given the Megacast and all the studio content we do on-site, I can’t imagine a place where we have more resources and more people for an event than what we do for the CFP. It’s the highlight of our college football season.

There was a lot of discussion around scheduling this year. How can it get more consistent?
D: While the dates may not be consistent year-to-year (as well as the time between the semifinals and the championship game), the consistency of audience delivery is much better. It has been, frankly, since we got through year 2 (when the semifinals were on New Year’s Eve). From a TV perspective, that was one of our primary goals, to make sure there weren’t huge peaks and valleys from year-to-year based on the calendar. The ability to get off of New Year’s Eve and move to those Saturdays gives us a consistent home that will deliver a fairly consistent audience.

The better alternative would be putting the semifinals on Jan. 1, but that’s not going to happen with the Rose Bowl locked in, right?
D: It’s not something that I can achieve.

Has there been an impact from the Southeast schools being so dominant in the championship game?
D: It’s certainly a factor in the audience for the championship game. I don’t think it’s a secret to say that we would probably draw higher audiences if you had a mix of teams from different regions of the country. Now, that’s not always the case, but we’ve certainly found a fairly steady audience for the championship, given that every year except for year 1 it has featured two teams from the Southeast. We’re still drawing a huge audience. … But there is upside, depending on the team mix.

Does length of game have an effect when they’re going four hours?
D: I don’t think it has a huge impact on us. When you’re talking national viewing on a weeknight, that 8 p.m. to midnight ET window is the sweet spot for maximizing audience. And for the most part, our games fit into that window.

Is there anything that you would qualify as a surprise benefit from the CFP?
D: The idea of the weekly rankings release was new in the sports world. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by just how much interest and discussion that has generated for the sport. … I tell people all the time that I feel like when you hit the date of that first rankings release, the season really changes. The impact of the playoff on the interest around the regular season has been a really pleasant surprise for us.