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Scott D. Pierce: Don't be surprised if BYU bowl out-rates USU's bowl

Published December 12, 2012 10:43 am

Sports on TV • It's all about arithmetic and not so much about the teams involved.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A year ago, more viewers watched Utah State's bowl game than watched BYU's bowl game.

That's probably not going to happen this year. For reasons that have little to with the teams involved.

I know there are Aggie fans out there thinking I'm crazy. That a 10-2 USU team will be far more interesting to watch in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl than a 7-5 BYU team will be in the Poinsettia Bowl.

I'm with you on that. The Aggies have a chance to move up in the rankings and build on what is already their most successful season ever. It's not like anyone is all that excited about Toledo, but was anyone all that excited about USU's 2011 bowl foe, Ohio?

While the Aggies are looking to add to their 2012 glory, the Cougars are looking to avoid further embarrassment by beating San Diego State, a team they played pretty much annually for three decades until last season.

If this was all about records, then the 2011 Armed Forces Bowl matchup (9-3 BYU vs. 8-4 Tulsa) would have drawn more viewers than the 2011 Potato Bowl (7-5 USU vs. 9-4 Ohio). But Utah State's loss was seen by 2.4 million viewers, compared with the 2 million who watched BYU win.

(That despite the fact that USU was playing on that ugly blue turf at Boise State. Although, truth be told, it looks worse on TV than it does in person. Television somehow makes it almost seem to glow.)

The fact that the Aggies attracted more bowl viewers than the Cougars in 2011 had little to do with those teams, either.

Television is like real estate. It's about location, location, location.

For the second year in a row, Utah State is in a pretty good location. The Potato Bowl airs Saturday at 2:30 p.m. MST on ESPN, when there are no competing bowl games.

BYU, on the other hand, is taking a massive step up in location this season. The 2011 Armed Forces Bowl was played on a Friday at 10 a.m.; the 2012 Poinsettia Bowl is set for Thursday, Dec. 20, at 6 p.m. MST. It, too, is the only bowl in the time slot, and it will be played pretty much entirely in prime time on the East Coast.

From a TV standpoint, the 2011 Poinsettia Bowl was not an attractive matchup. TCU (10-2) and Louisiana Tech (8-4) both had good records, but neither is a strong TV draw. And, predictably, the game hit a four-year low in the ratings — but it was still seen by 700,000 more viewers than USU's game and 1.1 million more than BYU's game.

Why? It's the same answer former President Bill Clinton gave at the Democratic National Convention back in August — "a one-word answer: arithmetic."

There are fewer viewers watching TV during the day than there are in prime time. A lot fewer.

Just look at CBS, which is No. 1 in total viewers in both daytime and prime time. During the day, the network averages slightly more than 3 million viewers. In prime time, it averages about 12 million.

If the Potato Bowl and the Poinsettia Bowl aired at exactly the same time on channels that were available in exactly the same homes, we might know something about which team — BYU or USU — is more popular.

But to make even that comparison valid, they'd have to play the same team. Which would be tough to pull off.

As it is, Aggies and Cougars may be able to brag about their games. But they should avoid bragging about comparative ratings.

Scott D. Pierce covers TV for The Tribune. Email: spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter: @ScottDPierce.