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Major bowl TV ratings mostly up, but attendance mostly down

By Jerry Hinnen | College Football Writer
The Seminoles are good business for the Orange Bowl. (US Presswire)

It's no secret that neither the attendance nor the TV ratings for college football's highest-profile bowls have been all that healthy in recent years -- a major factor in the belated arrival of the 2014 college football playoffs, according to some.

So how have the major bowls fared in 2013? Breaking it down:

SUGAR BOWL

2012: 64,512 attendance; 6.1 rating

2013: 54,178 attendance; 6.4 rating

Take: That attendance mark, in a word: Oof. AL.com reported Thursday that it was the worst attendance ever for a BCS bowl, the worst for the Sugar Bowl since a 1939 matchup featuring Carnegie-Mellon (!), and -- the ultimate insult -- only 5,350 fans ahead of the recent New Orleans Bowl, held in the same building. That game was played on a Saturday and featured nearby UL-Lafayette, but still -- fans of the Ragin' Cajuns and East Carolina coming that close to outnumbering Florida and Louisville fans is an eyesore.

At least there's the slight uptick in the TV rating to keep the Sugar Bowl officials from getting too depressed ... but that's a very slight uptick indeed (only a tenth of a point in the overnights), and still leaves the Sugar looking up at the ratings garnered New Year's night (see below) by Florida State and a Northern Illinois team carrying zero cachet with many casual fans. The new "champions bowl" format for the Sugar can't come fast enough.

ORANGE BOWL

2012: 67,653 attendance; 4.6 rating, a record-low for a BCS bowl game

2013: 72,073 attendance; 6.5 rating per ESPN

Take: Even if Orange Bowl officials weren't happy -- to say the least -- to be stuck with Northern Illinois by the BCS's byzantine selection process, at least Florida State's long-awaited reclaiming of the ACC championship gave the bowl a solid attendance draw. (It's possible that attendance figure has been padded, but wouldn't the bowl have just done the same padding last year?)

Lowest Rated BCS Games
RatingBowl Game: Result
4.62012 Orange: West Va. 70, Clemson 33
5.42009 Orange: Va. Tech 20, Cincinnati 7
6.12012 Sugar: Michigan 23, Va. Tech 20
6.22011 Fiesta: Oklahoma 48, UConn 20
6.42013 Sugar: Louisville 33, Florida 23
6.52013 Orange: FSU 31, N. Illinois 10
6.82010 Orange: Iowa 24, Ga. Tech 14
6.82011 Orange: Stanford 40, Va. Tech 14

Now the Orange just needs some luck in the television department. Since swapping its traditional alignment with the Big 8-then-12 for the ACC in hopes of an annual showcase for the Seminoles or hometown Hurricanes, the bowl has seen its profile swan dive right alongside the fortunes of the ACC.

Once again, though, having the Noles live up to their billing might pull the game out of its downward trajectory. The 6.5 is a whopping 41 percent increase over the miserable 2012 rating, despite the game being a terrible bore for its first 30 minutes and NIU having next-to-no name recognition with the casual college football fan. The game also won the night among all telecasts, broadcast or cable.

Still, that's not to say that a 6.5 is good. The 2007 meeting between Louisville and Wake Forest -- won by the Cardinals in a 24-13 slog -- garnered a 7.0. The 2008 beat-down of Hawaii by Georgia in the Sugar (the game the 2013 Orange most closely resembled) also finished with a 7.0. That 6.5 might be a step in the right direction, but the Orange would no doubt want several more steps to feel good about itself.

ROSE BOWL

2012: 91,245 attendance, 9.9 rating

2013: 93,359 attendance, 9.6 rating

Take: Unlike its BCS brethren, the Rose has been largely bulletproof when it comes to attendance and television ratings, and that continued this year. The 2012 edition featured a matchup of two highly-rated teams and a nationally-recognized offensive "brand" in Oregon, and turned into the highest-scoring Rose Bowl in history; the 2013 edition featured a now-three-time Rose Bowl repeat attendee in Wisconsin taking on a largely star-less Stanford team with a smaller fan base and lower national Q rating. The game devolved into a punt-fest featuring a grand total of three points in the entire second half.

Result? An increase in attendance and a minor 3 percent drop in television viewership. It's true that that 9.6 may represent the lowest Rose Bowl rating ever, but given the matchup, the game itself, and the troubles of a bowl like the Orange, it's still good to be the Granddaddy.

CAPITAL ONE BOWL

2012: 61,351 attendance, 5.1 rating

2013: 59,712 attendance, 6.6 rating

Take: The Cap One has seen its attendance drop for the past four years, despite this season inviting one team with a fanbase known for its devoted traveling fans (Nebraska) and another with one of the shortest drives to Orlando in the SEC (Georgia). To be fair, though, the Huskers were also in the Cap One in 2012, and the Bulldogs were coming off of a crushing SEC title game loss; the drop could have been steeper.

And Cap One officials will sleep even easier after seeing the TV rating jump by 29 percent. Judging by the 2012 ratings, South Carolina might have had the upper hand on Georgia on the field lately, but the Bulldogs are still the bigger draw.

OUTBACK BOWL

2012: 49,429 attendance, 5.0 rating

2013: 54,527 attendance, 4.3 rating

Take: More evidence for Georgia's power as a TV draw, and South Carolina's lack of same: The Bulldogs' 2012-to-2013 bowl swap with the Gamecocks didn't just see the Cap One improve its ratings, it saw the Outback's take a hit, despite the presence of reliable eyeball-grabber Michigan. Sorry, Gamecocks.

On the plus side, the Outback outdrew the Sugar!

GATOR BOWL

2012: 61,312 attendance, 2.1 rating

2013: 48,612 attendance, 1.6 rating

Take: At least the Gator already knew things were going to take a sharp downturn in 2013. A dream 2012 matchup between two of the biggest names and fanbases in college football, Florida and Ohio State, became a matchup between two of the smallest names and fanbases in the Big Ten and SEC, Northwestern and Mississippi State. The Wildcats and Bulldogs fans out there are extremely loyal; there just aren't nearly as many of them as there are for the Buckeyes and Gators.

But maybe the Gator wasn't expecting the ratings plunge -- a 24 percent drop -- to be as steep as it was. Gator president Rick Catlett told the Florida Times-Union the bowl might consider changing its traditional New Year's scheduling if it can't move from ESPN2 to either ABC or ESPN -- slots currently occupied by the Outback and Capital One Bowl.

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