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College Football Playoffs A Ratings Win On Television


Forty-two to 20 - if you're a fan of college football, or even if you're not, you may know that's the score of last night's first ever College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Ohio State beat Oregon. Buckeye fans are glowing, so is ESPN, which saw its highest TV ratings ever. And we could assume the NCAA is patting itself on the back. Its new playoff system seems to have paid off and there are dollar signs everywhere. Now, here to discuss the even bigger business of college football is John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal. And, John, going into this new plan, this creation of the new playoff system, what were some key concerns that people had about whether it could work?

JOHN OURAND: I think the main concern was whether or not people were actually going to show up. You're asking people to go and attend a game on New Year's Day and then turn around about a week later and attend another game in another city to support their team. And I think that they found that people did show up. They had more than 84,000 people in the stadium. The stadium was packed. The city was packed. I think they entered that - the other one was TV ratings and whether or not having a big tournament at the end of the season is going to hurt regular season ratings. And I think what they found is that regular season ratings were up. Ratings for the tournament are huge, but that's still an open question and something that they're going to keep an eye on over the next couple of years.

CORNISH: Is that something that the NCAA experiences with basketball championships?

OURAND: Yeah, everybody points to basketball. Regular season basketball TV ratings aren't particularly high, but they have at the end of it this huge tournament that is insanely popular and people - they want to have a little bit of both in football. They want regular season that's strong and they want a smaller end of season tournament that is, you know, hugely popular.

CORNISH: Now, obviously, there is a lot of hoopla with this because it was the inaugural championship under this system for football, but are we looking at, basically, another Super Bowl? And what does that mean for the college sport?

OURAND: I think they want to set this up as kind of like a Super Bowl week. People started getting in on Saturday, maybe Friday, and spending a couple days in Dallas. It wasn't quite the Super Bowl, though. Super Bowl people get there a full week beforehand. And, really, corporate America comes out in spades and they really blow it out, but there's a very big ceiling of growth there that I think this playoff can experience.

CORNISH: Finally, how does this complicate the argument that these are student athletes who don't deserve to be paid? I mean, with all the revenue floating around, all the cash that's flowing, you know, these guys weren't exactly going to class during this time. What does it mean for that debate?

OURAND: You know, I have a lot of sympathy for that viewpoint, but I don't think that this furthers that debate really at all. For the past decade, there have been corporations and TV networks that are spending billions and billions of dollars on college sports. So the idea that ESPN spending about $7 billion over 12 years for the college football playoffs almost seems quaint when you look at ESPN and CBS paying $7 billion just for the SCC. So I think that this is something that's been happening in college sports for a while, and I just think that this furthers that.

CORNISH: John Ourand is a media reporter with the Sports Business Journal. Thank you so much for talking with us.

OURAND: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.