Mark Cuban raised eyebrows earlier this week when he suggested that the NFL is ten years away from imploding because of over-saturation.
"When pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered," Cuban said. "And they're getting hoggy. When you try to take it too far, people turn the other way. I'm just telling you, when you got a good thing and you get greedy, it always, always, always, always, always turns against you."
Too much football being a bad thing? Well, too much of anything is bad. But what's too much football? You'd be hard pressed to say that is the case now, but the future might be another thing entirely. The NFL has talked about turning their Thursday night package into a doubleheader. They plan to resume playing on Saturdays after the college season ends. And Cuban says that the NFL is now considering moving games to Wednesday night as well.
There are signs out there that the market is close to saturated for football today. The league clearly isn't interested in adding a team in Los Angeles, and attendence woes in Jacksonville and Oakland have led to seats being covered by tarps. And secondary pro football leagues such as the USFL, XFL, and UFL have failed miserably.
But what does that have to do with college football? While Cuban spoke about the NFL, his points apply to college football as well. The Big Ten flirted briefly with the idea of Friday night games earlier this year. We already have MACtion on Tuesdays and Wednesday. ESPN's Thursday night package is well established, as is the Friday night package.
And, oh by the way, attendance is dropping. Not everywhere, mind you. It was up at Nebraska this season, thanks to stadium expansion. But it is clear that the more football tries to accommodate television, the more fans tend to stay home and watch there. 20 years ago, nearly every Nebraska football game kicked off at 12:30 in the afternoon. It was a rare exception that a game kicked off at a different time. Now, TV sets the time, and the time has varied from 11 am to as late as 8:15 pm. Ticketholders typically only have a couple of weeks notice for game times, so fans have learned to stay nimble in their planning.
But do fans have their limits? Fans may be willing to come early or late on Saturday to accommodate TV. But when games change days, will they still come? NFL insiders recognize that there are far more empty seats on those weeknight games. That's not a huge issue for the NFL, where TV revenue brings in about $200 million a year.
That is a big issue for college football. Nebraska reportedly makes $5 million for each home game; that's $35 million for a typical seven game home schedule. Thanks to Nebraska's move to the Big Ten, Nebraska receives less than half that much from television...and that includes revenue from other sports, such as basketball. And while Nebraska stands to make much more money when the Big Ten's next television deal begins, it'll still likely be less than ticket revenue.
Nebraska football's 50 year sellout streak is not only a source of pride for the program and it's fans, it's also should be a reminder to the leaders of the University and the Big Ten that television revenue isn't the most important thing to Nebraska. Any actions that jeopardize that sellout streak jeopardize the long term viability of the program. That doesn't mean that the Big Ten will continue to resist November night games, but it will limit them. A Nebraska/Wisconsin game on a November Saturday night makes sense for an ABC prime time broadcast. On the other hand, a Nebraska/Purdue game on a November Saturday night doesn't make sense for a BTN broadcast.
Mark Cuban's point is that fans have their limits. They can handle moving their games during Saturday. Move their games off of the weekend, and suddenly, some fans simply won't be able to follow. They might just decide to stay home, and if they stay home often enough, they won't buy tickets. And that hurts football teams in the end. That's the warning that Cuban makes.
He said in the context of the NFL. It applies to college football as well.