Thursday marks the two-month anniversary of the national nightmare that is the ongoing NFL lockout, with another four months still to go before the situation starts to get really desperate. And for two months, college football's power brokers have continued to insist there are no immediate plans to fill the pending void in America's soul by moving college games into the pros' traditional Sunday time slots, mainly because it can't be sure those slots are going to be open when the NFL could declare the season back on at any moment.
ESPN's position? Either way, it is fine with it. Whatever, man. Because even if the Worldwide Leader loses the coveted "Monday Night Football" property and other NFL content for a while, by Disney CEO Bob Iger's calculations, the advertising industry's insatiable drive to reach the young male demographic will drive ad rates for college football through the roof right where it is. From ADWEEK:
"Clearly, we're hoping that the league and its Players Association resolve this and we get a season," Iger said, shortly before Disney disclosed its second-quarter earnings [on Tuesday]. "If we don't get a season, the impact on ESPN will not be significant."
Iger went on to note that ESPN holds the rights to air nearly 300 NCAA football games, which would serve as contextually appropriate replacement programming in the event of the NFL season being scuttled.
"We will see some extremely, extremely improved pricing for ESPN's college football games. CPMs* will be up, rates will be up," Iger said. "They'll probably expand their format so that they'll add more inventory in order to take advantage of that. So the significant increases we'll see not just in college football but in other ESPN programming will offset, at least somewhat, the impact of a [lockout]."
The minimum viewers can expect if college football is seen as the new golden ticket to the 18-to-39-year-old male: Fewer clever in-house spots of the "GameDay" gang, and more of schlubby everymen being assaulted by animals on a violent quest for beer, Howie Long insulting your manhood and capacity for independent thought, and anthems about stoically enduring women who talk. The worst case: Extended commercial intrusion during every single timeout, every single change of possession and after Every. Single. Kickoff. (At least there won't be a two-minute warning, but don't think for a second they won't mull it over if the numbers are good enough.)
Because multiple ESPN channels (include its online streaming network, ESPN 3) are already wall-to-wall college football in the fall from Thursday night through the wee hours of Sunday morning — even Friday nights are getting pretty crowded these days — it would seem the only place to "expand their format" or "add more inventory" is, yes, finding marketable teams willing to take their act to Sunday on short notice. Presumably that won't be anyone from the SEC or Big Ten, or Notre Dame or Texas. But the longer the lockout drags on, the more irresistible those vacant Sunday slots are going to look to everyone involved.
- - -
* "CPM" is "Cost Per Mille," advertising jargon for the cost of putting an ad in front of 1,000 people.