Big Noon Kickoff Credit: Fox Sports

This past Saturday, the stars aligned for Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff. There was no hotter story in college football (or American sports for that matter) than the Michigan sign-stealing scandal and its ongoing fallout. The university and head coach Jim Harbaugh were supposed to find out that morning if he would be granted an injunction and be able to stand on the sidelines for UM’s Big Ten showdown with Penn State. Meanwhile, all anyone on social media wanted to talk about was their feelings about Harbaugh, Michigan, and its fanbase. And when the dust settled, Michigan’s emotionally charged win over Penn State peaked at 11.2 million viewers and averaged 9.16 million, Fox’s second-most-watched game of the year.

And yet, College GameDay still lapped Big Noon Kickoff in the ratings, even while the game that followed on ESPN, Alabama-Kentucky, averaged just 2.76 million viewers. GameDay announced that it saw an average of 2.3 million viewers on Saturday while BNK averaged a little under 1.4 million (topping out at 1.86 million)

That’s been the story all season long between the two pre-game shows, in spite of the fact that Fox has often had the much more intriguing game that day.

As the hype around Deion Sanders’ Colorado squad was cresting in Week 2, BNK originated from Boulder and pulled in a 1.2 million average, but that wasn’t enough to unseat GameDay, which garnered a little under 1.7 million that Saturday.

Big Noon Kickoff pulled a rare move and joined GameDay live from Boulder the following week even though ESPN had the Colorado-Colorado State game. ESPN still benefitted, seeing GameDay’s average audience pop to 2.2 million while Big Noon Kickoff averaged just 928,000.

The two shows went head-to-head again in Week 8, both hailing from Columbus, Ohio for the big showdown between Ohio State and Penn State, which Fox was carrying. While BNK drew its highest average of the season (1.57m), it still wasn’t enough to unseat GameDay (1.87m).

Certainly, no one expected Big Noon Kickoff to beat College GameDay in any meaningful way coming into the 2023 college football season. But if there was ever a season in which they were primed to make a move, this has been it. The deafening hype surrounding Colorado for the first six weeks of the season should have favored them and the seismic sign-stealing story out of Ann Arbor also favors Fox and its broadcasting schedule. The eyeballs should be there.

They’ve garnered some solid audiences, but the king stays king.

On Saturday, as the college football world waited with bated breath to find out Harbaugh’s fate, everything was heading in Fox and BNK’s direction. Every few minutes, Bruce Feldman would appear to provide the latest updates. However, despite being the ones on the ground in Happy Valley, BNK got outmaneuvered by ESPN’s Pete Thamel, who was first to break the news that there would be no hearing and Harbaugh was relegated to the hotel room. That prompted a reversal from Feldman. While Feldman and Jenny Taft continued to work the angles there, it was a missed opportunity for sure.

Another missed opportunity came a few weeks earlier when, following the demise of the Pac-12, Pat McAfee and Kirk Herbstreit seemed to use the GameDay platform like a bully pulpit, putting Washington State in its place. The discussion turned against GameDay in a way that provided BNK with a great opportunity to showcase itself as a positive space for college football. That weekend, the show did indeed show plenty of love to Wazzou, but if that was meant to be a shot fired, it was a bit muffled.

Credit due to GameDay, which, in its 36th season overall, has tweaked its look and feel just enough to remain relevant and, perhaps most critically, remain important. Whatever you think of McAfee, and opinions do vary, he brings an energy to the proceedings that excite the live crowd and attracts vital TV audiences. Rece Davis, Desmond Howard, and Herbstreit bring a steady, dependable hand to the presentation. And Lee Corso’s mascot head decision remains an iconic bit and must-see TV for many.

Big Noon Kickoff has a lot of the same pieces as GameDay, but they don’t quite fit the same. It’s the curse of starting so much later, but the show lacks the vibrancy and authenticity of its ESPN counterpart, often feeling like a copy of a copy. Mark Ingram II brings a lot to the table, Matt Leinart is having fun, Charles Wooden isn’t afraid to go NSFW, and Urban Meyer, for all his faults, remains a commanding presence when discussing Xs and Os. But there’s just a certain je ne sais quoi that makes GameDay feel cohesive while BNK can feel like a half-baked cake. It’s just not there yet.

Perhaps that changes over time. Partnerships gel. Traditions get cemented. Familiarity grows. And maybe there will come a day when Big Noon Kickoff is going toe-to-toe with College GameDay every Saturday morning akin to the heyday of the WWE/WCW ratings wars. And to be fair, Fox says BNK’s audience is up over 10 percent YOY.

For now, at least, it’s no contest. And it doesn’t matter how much hype surrounds that day’s big game or huge story. Viewers know what they want and they’re sticking with it.

Correction: The article originally stated Fox broadcast Colorado vs. Colorado State. ESPN broadcast that game. 

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to sean@thecomeback.com.