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ESPN Ready to Be Bowled Over

For ESPN, ’tis the season for college bowl
game watching. ESPN’s networks will air 33 of the 35 football
bowls (CBS has the Sun Bowl, Fox the Cotton), capped
off by the five Bowl Championship Series contests.

This year is the second of ESPN’s four-year, $500 million
BCS contract that reacquired the telecasts after a stint on
Fox. Coupled with Monday Night Football, bowls have historically
made December ESPN’s top-rated month.

“ ‘Bowl Week’ has morphed into ‘Bowl Season,’ ” ESPN
senior vice president of college sports programming Burke
Magnus said. “Generally, this is our high-rated time of year.”

New Year’s Day 2011 was ESPN’s most-watched day ever,
including 20.6 million watchers for the Rose Bowl battle between
TCU and Wisconsin.


“ESPN really wanted to make college football a year-round
priority,” Magnus said. “Each weekend of the regular season
is so important, incredibly vibrant, leading up to the bowl
season and then all five BCS games.”

The championship game this time around pits LSU
against Alabama. The SEC West rivals also met on Nov. 9
in a regular-season meeting that drew 20 million viewers.

Could that matchup top last year’s title game, won by
Auburn over Oregon, as the top-rated telecast in cable
history with 27.3 million viewers on ESPN?

“I think so,” Magnus said. “The two teams have been No.
1 and No. 2 almost all season. We don’t delve into how the
BCS figures out the matchup. We just hope it’s captivating.”
Last year’s game was decided in the final minute.

ESPN can’t control what happens on the field — Oklahoma
drubbed UConn in last year’s Fiesta Bowl, 48-20 — but
Magnus is bullish across the BCS games.

“I think we’re looking at better numbers,” he said. “The
Rose Bowl is a terrific matchup between Oregon and Wisconsin,
and the Fiesta has No. 3 and No. 4 in Oklahoma State
and Stanford. In the Sugar Bowl, you have Michigan, which
is returning to the relevance of its tradition, and Virginia
Tech. The Orange Bowl is happy with Clemson and the Big
East champion, West Virginia.”


ESPN said its college football and BCS ad sales have been
very strong, “pacing above goal.”

ESPN oficials attribute the uptick to a big return by the
auto category and season-long support from the 15 BCS official marketing partners, including newcomers Dell and Unilever.
All of this group, including the BCS title-game sponsors
(Discover Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl presented by Vizio, Tostitos
Fiesta Bowl and the Allstate Sugar Bowl and BCS National
Championship Game) bought major positions throughout the
regular season on TV and other ESPN platforms.