MOBILE, AL – DECEMBER 23: Running back B.J. Smith #26 of the Troy Trojans stiff arms linebacker Quentin Poling #32 of the Ohio Bobcats on December 23, 2016 in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)

Over at The Comeback this week I wrote about how blase the December 26th list of bowl games was, probably the most unremarkable in history. Of the six teams playing three bowl games, precisely zero had winning records and one of them even had a losing record. It was the perfect advertisement for an over-inflated bowl season of 40 games where far too many games have far too little meaning.

So naturally the question arises, why are there so many mediocre bowl games? Well, ESPN owning and operating a dozen or more of them is a major reason why.

So why does ESPN own and operate so many bowl games then?

Because any bowl game leads to major ratings victories for ESPN over the holiday period.

The website TV Sports Ratings has cable ratings for all of the bowl games through December 23rd featuring such luminaries as the New Orleans Bowl, Boca Raton Bowl, and Dollar General Bowl.

All of these games have either won the night in sports on cable or come very close. Take a look at the following numbers examining the number of viewers for the bowl game, where it ranked for the day in cable sports ratings, and in cable ratings overall…

December 17th

New Mexico Bowl (New Mexico vs UTSA) – 1.48m viewers, #5 in sports, #14 on cable overall
Camellia Bowl (Appalachain State vs Toledo) – 1.39m viewers, #4 in sports, #13 on cable overall
New Orleans Bowl (Southern Miss vs UL-Lafayette) – 1.33m viewers, #6 in sports, #15 on cable overall

December 19th

Miami Beach Bowl (Tulsa vs Central Michigan) – 794k viewers, #5 in sports, #13 on cable overall

December 20th

Boca Raton Bowl (Memphis vs Western Kentucky) – 1.58m viewers, #1 in sports, #11 on cable overall

December 21st

Poinsettia Bowl (BYU vs Wyoming) – 2.38m viewers, #2 in sports, #10 on cable overall

December 22nd

Idaho Potato Bowl (Idaho vs Colorado State) – 1.14m viewers, #5 in sports, #13 on cable overall

December 23rd

Bahamas Bowl (Old Dominion vs Eastern Michigan) – 1.37m viewers, #3 in sports, #60 on cable overall (thanks to @SportsTVRatings for the correction)
Armed Forces Bowl (La Tech vs Navy) – 2.34m viewers, #2 in sports, #8 on cable overall
Dollar General Bowl (Troy vs Ohio) – 2.51m viewers, #1 in sports, #1 on cable overall

Every bowl game was in the top five in sports for the day save for one and all of them made the top fifteen on cable overall. 2.5 million viewers for a football game between Troy and Ohio! That’s just a ridiculously good number for those two teams in that bowl game.

The only other sports programs to make cable’s top ten during the same period? Two were NFL games and NFL related programming for Monday Night Football on ESPN and Thursday Night Football on NFL Network. Another was the Kentucky-Louisville college basketball rivalry game.

You know how many times FS1 or NBCSN showed up in the daily top ten of cable rankings? Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nil. FS1’s top program during the same time period was UFC prelims that drew 679,000 viewers. Their next highest program? An episode of Skip and Shannon Undisputed that drew 150,000 viewers.

Therein lies the truth about cable sports – it’s all about live sports events, even the ones that don’t seem too appetizing on paper. As long as millions of fans are sitting down to watch these bowl games, no matter how many 6-6 or 5-7 teams are playing, they’re going to be a staple of the December sports lineup.

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