If you’re like me, the past month’s smorgasbord of sports has left you happier than a tick on a fat dog. Since May 30 we’ve had the pleasure of witnessing two NBA 7-game playoff series, the women’s and men’s college world series (men’s is still ongoing), the US Open, the Stanley Cup playoffs, the UEFA Euro 2016, and the United States men national team’s surprise run in the Copa America.
Because of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms we’ve been able to experience it all together with live dialogue and reactions. It’s amazing, really. Interacting with others around the country and world in real-time via our smart phones and computers is a lot cheaper and oftentimes more fun than, say, going to sports bar. For me, consuming live sports while interacting with my peers online is an addiction, and this past month has been an epic bender.
For those lucky enough to pay the bills covering and writing about sports, or just for fun, months like these are the time to cash in on followers. Viewers are engaged and yearning for the next preview, column, hot take, or news breaking tweet/post.
These rare planet aligned sport events are especially valuable to schools, individuals, or franchises who struggle to maintain a position in the spotlight during the slower offseason months. If you can garner attention during times like these, the momentum that can be built is priceless.
For example, the United States men’s national soccer team was recently able to string off a series of wins and advance to a mouth watering semifinal match up against the #1 FIFA ranked team in the world in Argentina. The Yanks got beat, handily I might add, and most of us who follow global soccer closely knew it was coming.
Despite the Messi massacre, the USMNT garnered a massive amount of viewers. Per Stars and Stripes FC, a SB Nation blog, “With each passing match since the final group match, the USMNT have broken Fox Sports 1’s record for ratings for a soccer match. This match was no exception, and in fact, it destroyed the record.”
The natural reaction to the lop-sided loss would be to say, “What a wasted opportunity. All of those eye balls and nothing to show for it.” I’d argue that no opportunity was wasted, yet, this loss to a team with arguably the greatest soccer player of all time was exactly what the domestic soccer movement needed.
Millions watched the game being played at the highest level and it was right here on our soil. Youth needed to see what The Beautiful Game was capable of producing. The United States team clearly has years and likely decades worth of player development and infrastructure building to compete at the level of the Argentinians. The movement has to start somewhere and sometime. With 3.29 million viewers tuned in to Tuesday night’s match, now is the time to grow soccer the right way.
If you’re still with me I hope you’ve trusted I’d bring around the conversation to a topic relative to what you’re accustomed to reading from The Daily Dragon. The morning after the loss to Argentina I couldn’t help but relate the USMNT team’s struggle for support and momentum to that of the member’s of the Conference USA or any Group of 5 conferences for that matter.
The revenue gap between the Power 5 and Group 5 is growing larger than Jim Harbaugh’s Twitter follower count. Trust me when I tell you that it will only get worse. I don’t have a creative conference realignment scenario or a pitch for a new untapped streaming media outlet to offset it, so don’t get your hopes up. The media money ship has sailed for the Group of 5. It’s time to watch it float off into the distance and focus on creating opportunities when the spotlight finally shines in your school’s direction.
Because this is a UAB focused site and we all know that the university will not be fielding a football team in 2016, I’ll use the upcoming men’s basketball season schedule to discuss my point.
Based on what’s been released so far of the schedule, we know the pre-conference portion of the season will be highlighted by trips to Memphis, Texas, Kansas City (Kansas/Georgia/GW), and an in-state battle with Auburn at Bartow Arena. In all likelihood these four games will be UAB’s highest profile and greatest exposure games of the entire regular season. These four games are also likely UAB’s only chance to showcase their program on one of ESPN’s channels.
Conference USA’s massive TV deal money decrease is forcing all of the Conference USA school’s to find ways to fill the gap, whether it via donations/fund raising, increased ticket sales, etc. For UAB, their performance in these four marquee games will greatly affect home ticket sales when conference play comes around, putting a ton of pressure to perform. Winning three of four or all of those games could yield a significant jump in home attendance which saw the 11th highest in the nation last year from 3,257 to 4,945. A large jump in attendance equals more money and being in the Conference USA we desperately need the money.
It doesn’t take a sports economics prognosticator to come up with the idea of winning the big TV network games will help your program and conference as a whole – it’s common sense.
What’s changed recently for Conference USA in particular is the intensified pressure to win those games to maintain or boost ticket sales. Fortunately Conference USA is getting Power 5 football games on the schedule, and with a decent number of them at home.
Currently, in the climate we are in, Conference USA strongest hand to play is football. Conference USA hasn’t been a basketball conference in over a decade.
2016 Power 5 Football Games
Charlotte – at Louisville
FAU – at Miami, At Kansas State
FIU – Indiana, Maryland
Marshall – Louisville, at Pittsburgh
Middle Tennessee – at Vanderbilt, at Missouri
Old Dominion – at North Carolina State
Western Kentucky – at Alabama, Vanderbilt
Louisiana Tech – at Arkansas, at Texas Tech
North Texas – at Florida
Rice – Baylor, at Stanford
Southern Miss – at Kentucky, at LSU
UTEP – at Texas
UTSA – Arizona State, at Texas A&M
Total: 22 Games (6 Home Games)
Last season Conference USA went 2-24 against the Power 5 with only five games being played at home. The good news is we’ll have six Power 5 home games in 2016. Bad news, there will only be 22 games. This puts a ton of pressure on Conference USA to produce when the opportunities are there, and let me be clear we must produce.
In my opinion, in order, the most winnable 2016 Power 5 games are:
Maryland at FIU
Marshall at Pittsburgh
Louisville at Marshall
Vanderbilt at Western Kentucky
Arizona St at UTSA
Four or more Power 5 football wins a year for Conference USA is where the conference needs to be moving forward. Schools all around the footprint are investing in facilities like never before, and in my opinion Conference USA currently has some of the best coaches the league has ever had. The TV media money is no longer a major source of income Conference USA schools can rely on. It’s not out of the question that in the coming years contracts can be renegotiated, but, I wouldn’t put my money on it. They aren’t either.