SBJ All-Access at the CFP: School's Out
Clemson’s 44-16 win over Alabama in the CFP National Championship last night officially put a bow on the 2018-19 college football season. After a weekend of bad weather that created a challenging narrative leading up to Monday, Mother Nature delivered clear skies around the South Bay in time for the game, and Levi’s Stadium looked like a fantastic setting for the playoff finale. There were also plenty of questions about attendance in Santa Clara during the lead-up to the game, but there was a near-capacity crowd of 74,814, and the look on ESPN’s broadcast made it seem like there were plenty of butts in seats in Santa Clara. While the rating was down on ESPN, Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler did what they always do -- which is deliver a top-notch game broadcast. CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock put his best foot forward on his Twitter feed last night: “Another great end to the college football season.”
PRIME NUMBERS: ESPN drew a 14.6 overnight rating for Clemson’s 44-16 blowout win over Alabama in the CFP National Championship last night, marking the lowest rating for a college football national championship since Bama-LSU in 2012. Clemson-Alabama is down 13% from Bama’s thrilling overtime win over Georgia last season. The 14.6 rating includes the MegaCast options offered on ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPNews. Two years ago, Clemson’s 35-31 last-minute win over Bama drew a 15.3 overnight. Through three quarters of last night's game, ESPN was actually tracking even with that game from two years ago, but the score never got close again. Despite the decline, the 14.6 is cable TV's best overnight rating in a year.
HE’S A GAMER: ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro last week was down with a case of the flu but rallied over the weekend in time to make the championship game. He was spotted on the field pregame, making the rounds with Disney Chair & CEO Bob Iger and chatting up ESPN staffers. During the game, ESPN MLB analyst Alex Rodriguez and his girlfriend Jennifer Lopez were among those in Pitaro’s suite at Levi’s Stadium. For pregame at the ESPN private hospitality tent, the network brought in two pro cornhole players. One battled Terrell Owens in a head-to-head match. Among the Bama alums at the ESPN event were Shaun Alexander, Landon Collins, Derrick Henry, O.J. Howard and Julio Jones. Clemson alums included Tajh Boyd, Shaq Lawson, C.J. Spiller and actor/comedian Rob Huebel. Meanwhile, ESPN’s final roster of CFP sponsors for 2018-19 included:
PARTY TIME: Tailgate Guys had a 10-tent setup outside Levi’s Stadium yesterday in its first game as a CFP official vendor. Parker Duffey, Tailgate Guys President & CEO, said sales started slowly before picking up steam over the weekend, so he was pleasantly surprised by game day to find all 10 tents sold. Each tent accommodates 50 people, but some had several more people. Duffey said he hopes to build more business in New Orleans next year.
DUCK COMMANDER: Oregon AD Rob Mullens for seven weeks during the football season transforms into the CFP Selection Committee Chair. This marks Mullens’ third season as a member of the committee but the first in which he chaired the group. His appointment is a direct reflection of the respect his AD peers and conference commissioners have for him. Mullens talked to SBJ about his experiences:
- On CFP expansion: “There’s somehow this perception that this committee has some say. We have no say. This committee’s job is to rank the top 25, that’s all.”
- On leadership style: “The committee works because there are 13 experts who care deeply and work extremely hard. As the chair, you want to make sure every angle is explored so that we capitalize on the expertise in the room.”
- On the CFP staff: “Bill Hancock is a real pro. They’re really a tremendous aid in preparing for the (CFP selection) TV show, but you can’t prepare for every question.”
- On ditching his glasses after the first CFP TV show: “It became a huge topic of conversation in my office, and even in my own home.”
HUDDLING UP: Having the CFP Championship in Silicon Valley afforded the opportunity for several groups to host tech-focused events. The CFP (with Wasserman), Facebook (with JMI Sports), Octagon and NACDA (with Learfield) were among the organizations to bring people together. The CFP for the first time sponsored a Tech Summit at San Jose State. Wasserman organized Saturday’s event, which drew more than 100 vendors, commissioners and ADs, including USF’s Mike Kelly, Kansas State’s Gene Taylor and Georgia Tech’s Todd Stansbury. Attendees heard from the CFP’s Hancock and Ticketmaster’s Tim Martin, and also had a pair of panel discussions on esports and how tech is impacting athletic performance.
- Martin said of ticketing changes: “Sixty percent of our transactions are happening on mobile devices. We’ve seen 34 percent year-over-year growth on mobile transactions and we have 35 million downloads of the Ticketmaster app. So the shift is happening dramatically.”
- Martin added of digital ticketing for college students: “They’ll forget their student ID, but they’ll never forget their phone.”
- Intel Sports’ Howard Wright: “Data is the new oil and the stadiums are the new oil fields.”
- The NFL’s Damani Leech said of new tech developments: “Does the technology work? It can’t work just 90 percent of the time; people’s jobs are at stake. It has to work every down in every environment -- cold, hot, sleet, snow.”
- Kinduct’s Callum Mayer said of tech’s future: “With this explosion of people collecting data, five years from now we’re going to know how that NFL superstar performed when he was 12 years old and a kid will be able to compare himself at that same age to figure out what his projection is and what he needs to be working on.”
- ESPN’s Kevin Lopes said of esports: “There’s a lot of outpaced investing, from a team point of view. We’ll see some level of contraction in the future.”
Facebook, in tandem with JMI Sports, hosted a group of about 50 on Saturday at its Menlo Park campus. Reps from three JMI schools were in attendance -- Clemson, Notre Dame and Kentucky -- as well as administrators from four of the power five conferences. Pro Football HOFer Ronnie Lott and Facebook college strategist Nick Marquez were among the speakers on converting viewers into customers, branded content and other revenue-generating ideas. JMI’s Erik Judson, who initiated the session, said his firm is focused on events like this to bring its college clients closer to tech companies in Silicon Valley. Meanwhile, Octagon hosted around 50 people at a “Future of the Fan” event on Sunday morning at the Silicon Valley Capital Club. The panel discussion, moderated by Octagon’s Dan Cohen, explored ways in which the fan experience at games is being impacted by data gathering, legal wagering and other factors. Twitter’s Will Exline, Cisco’s Kevin Dunbar, Courtside Ventures’ Deepen Parikh and Sports Innovation Lab’s Josh Walker spoke on the panel. On Monday morning, NACDA offered a session, sponsored by Learfield, that kicked off with Stanford AD Bernard Muir interviewing SoFi CEO and former NFL exec Anthony Noto. Other speakers included former Florida State AD and new NCAA Exec VP/Regulatory Affairs Stan Wilcox, as well as MGM Resorts’ Jim Murren.
PAY DAY: The distribution of media revenue from the CFP’s ESPN deal to the power five conferences will look similar to the $54M each conference received last season -- with maybe a small bump. A conference receives $6M per team that is selected for the semifinals. An additional $2.25M is paid to each conference with a team in the semifinals to cover expenses. A key difference this year is that the Rose and Sugar bowls are not semifinals, so their payouts are separate from CFP revenue. Both the Rose and the Sugar pay $80M ($40M from the Rose for both the Big Ten and Pac-12, and $40M from the Sugar for both the SEC and Big 12). The additional revenue equates to $3M-$4M for each school in those four conferences. The ACC has a different arrangement with the Orange Bowl. A little more than $80M is distributed to the other five FBS conferences.
- The Allstate-sponsored official tailgate party got off to a slow start thanks to a late-arriving crowd (at least compared to prior CFPs). Country rocker Keith Urban took the Capital One-branded stage three hours before game time and before the venue felt crowded.
- Dr Pepper had its own private hospitality tent outside the venue.
- Among the most unusual activations -- DirecTV set up a working barbershop in the tailgate party, playing off its barbershop-themed TV spot.
- Salt Lake City-based graphic designer Infinite Scale was back to wrap Levi’s Stadium with CFP, Alabama and Clemson branding. Infinite Scale has wrapped the championship venue all five years since the CFP launched and has done several events at Levi’s Stadium.
- At the Host Committee tailgate: 21 Marketing co-founder and former Visa exec Tom Shepard, who was rocking Bama red with his son. Also there was Steve Hall, president of Charlotte-based Signature Sports Group, the agency working with CFP sponsor Eckrich. Levi’s Stadium partner SAP was presenting partner of the Host Committee’s pregame tailgate and had a showcase ringing the buffet and bar.
THAT’S A WRAP: With the fifth iteration of the CFP in the books, it’s time to look forward to New Orleans for 2020. Weather won’t be a factor for game night at Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but fans should likely expect a warmer climate for the lead-up to the game. Last night’s high in Santa Clara was 63 degrees, while New Orleans had a high of 72 yesterday. Looking forward two years, that temperature rises, as Miami had a high of 77 degrees yesterday (Hard Rock Stadium hosts the championship in 2021). The cold comes back into play in 2022, as Indianapolis (high of 55 yesterday) and Lucas Oil Stadium host.
Did you like what you read? Did we miss something? SBJ/SBD is always looking to improve our products, so reach out to Austin Karp (email@example.com) with any comments/concerns/etc. Also, feel free to share our newsletters -- and encourage others to do the same!