People (myself included) wonder just what the appeal is of bowl games like the New Mexico Bowl, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, the Beef O'Brady's Bowl, and so on and so forth. Well, here's why there are so many bowl games: people watch them. The New Mexico Bowl on Saturday (which featured a thrilling comeback from Arizona to beat Nevada 49-48 in the final seconds) outrated Butler's basketball upset over #1 Indiana on CBS. The bowl game on ESPN drew a 1.9 overnight, while the hoops game drew just a 1.5 in the same timeslot. The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (which began at 4:30 and featured Utah State and Toledo sleepwalking through three quarters before exploding in the fourth) also outdrew #1 getting upset, drawing a 1.8 overnight.
The first two of 35 bowl games to air this winter were both slightly up from last year. The New Mexico Bowl's ratings increasing 19% from 2011 (Temple-Wyoming) and holding strong with 2010's UTEP-BYU matchup. The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl was slightly up from 2011 (Ohio-Utah State), and was even with 2010 (Fresno State-Northern Illinois).
The remaining bowl games have the advantage of great scheduling on their side. Thursday's Poinsettia Bowl between BYU and San Diego State has no NFL Network game to compete against. Saturday's New Orleans Bowl and Las Vegas Bowl air back to back on ESPN before Saturday's NFL Network primetime game between the Falcons and Lions. The Hawaii Bowl will take place in Monday Night Football's timeslot on ESPN on Christmas Eve.
ESPN also lucked out by not getting very many ugly matchups in the early part of the bowl season. Of the first eight bowl games of the season, the only three that don't seem to have much appeal to the casual fan are the Beef O'Brady's Bowl (UCF vs Ball State), the New Orleans Bowl (Louisiana-Lafayette vs East Carolina), and the Little Caesar's Bowl (Western Kentucky vs Central Michigan). If ESPN can keep ratings strong until Christmas, they're poised for huge gains once the big-time bowls begin.
As for CBS's disappointment with Butler-Indiana, it's not nearly as bad as you'd think. The game was up 50% from last year's comparable matchup between Butler and Purdue, and is far and away the highest-rated game of the season on CBS, destroying Arkansas-Michigan (0.9 last week) and Baylor-Kentucky (1.1 two weeks ago). While it's not a good sign that a marquee matchup like this was outrated by a mediocre bowl game on cable, it's the same argument that people make when MLB playoff games are outrated by regular season NFL games.
Football is king, and it will stay on that pedestal for as long as it wants. Just because a sport can't beat a football game doesn't mean the sport is in trouble or that the end is nigh. Comparisons need to be modified when the competition is on the gridiron, even if it's a largely meaningless bowl game between two barely above .500 teams.
(Numbers via SMW)