ESPN Reportedly Owes Nearly $20 Million in Ad Makegoods After Low CFP Ratings

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2016

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) carries the ball as Oklahoma defensive end D.J. Ward (87) pursues, during the first half of the Orange Bowl NCAA college football semifinal playoff game, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
Joe Skipper/Associated Press

ESPN reportedly owes advertisers around $20 million in makegoods after ratings for the College Football Playoff semifinal games, which aired on New Year's Eve, fell well below last year's standard.  

John Consoli of Broadcasting & Cable reported Friday the expected payments come after the games failed to reach ratings estimates with higher guarantee levels being offered. He noted companies are also concerned about future broadcasts, with seven of the next 10 years of games also slated for New Year's Eve.

Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated noted overall viewership between the two semifinals was down more than 12 million from last year's games. The first game (Clemson vs. Oklahoma) dropped 45 percent, and the second game (Alabama vs. Michigan State) dropped 34 percent in the ratings.

A drop was expected due to the timing. Last year's semifinals were played on New Year's Day, a more traditional place for college football bowl games. But the makegood amount suggests even ESPN was surprised by how much the numbers fell.

Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman of spoke with CFP executive director Bill Hancock about the situation. He wasn't prepared to make any definitive statements after just one bad year and suggested the lopsided nature of both games played a role in a drop-off.

Hancock told Mandel and Feldman on The Audible podcast that "one year does not make a trend," and no changes have been discussed as part of the ongoing 12-year contract. He did leave a little room for movement, though.

"It may turn out by the time we get to Year 5, and we've had competitive games, that we say, 'You know what, it's not working,'" Hancock said. "But it's important not to jump to conclusions after one year of admittedly disappointing ratings."

"Someone suggested to me Star Wars was a factor (in TV ratings)," Hancock added, per ESPN's Joe Schad.

Deitsch reported that ESPN always knew the planned schedule when it signed the long-term deal to broadcast the games, but it still pushed for a change away from New Year's Eve this year. Hancock decided to hold firm on the date.

Clearly, his stance hasn't changed since that initial refusal to move the games to a more fan-friendly date. The question now is whether ESPN could renew its efforts to alter the future landscape with advertisers apparently becoming concerned about such an uncertain ratings future.

Those buying ad time reportedly prefer New Year's Day or other nights in prime time away from New Year's Eve, according to Consoli, which certainly makes sense. But the CFP committee holds the power and is apparently ready to bet on a ratings rebound moving forward.