Booming in Attendance, Ratings in Last Season of the Pac-12
BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — For a conference with teams about to scatter in all directions, the Pac-12 sure looks rosy at the moment.
Overall attendance is up around the league through the halfway mark ( thanks, Deion Sanders ). Ratings, too, are booming (tip of the cap to Sanders again). The league also has six teams in the Top 25, including No. 5 Washington in a great position to earn a place in the College Football Playoff. The Pac-12 even has a chance at a second straight Heisman Trophy winner (Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. is among the favorites ).
Of course, there's Sanders again, the Colorado coach who wins these days even when his team doesn’t. Less than a day after the Buffaloes' colossal collapse against Stanford, “ Saturday Night Live ” did a parody of Sanders with the actor in the skit decked out in Colorado gear and sunglasses. Now that's prime marketing for the school.
The conference remains on quite a roll even as it's about to wave goodbye to most of its schools.
The Pac-12, with roots going back more than a century, will see 10 teams soon exit. Only Washington State and Oregon State remain. Southern California, UCLA, Oregon and Washington are headed to the Big Ten. Stanford and California will venture to the ACC, while Sanders and the Buffaloes, along with Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah, join the Big 12.
One last hurrah.
In Boulder, Sanders has turned the sideline into Club Folsom Field. No telling who’s going to arrive, either. It could be athletes (Kevin Garnett, Michael Westbrook), hip-hop artists (Lil Wayne, DaBaby) or even entertainers like Cedric the Entertainer, who showed up Friday night in Colorado gear. He watched the Buffaloes race out to a 29-0 halftime lead against Stanford, only to lose 46-43 in double overtime as part of the school’s biggest crumble.
Cedric just wanted a front-row seat to one of the hottest tickets in college football.
“The atmosphere that (Deion Sanders) brings, this excitement — it feels modern. It feels fresh," Cedric said. "It's just making football exciting again."
Sanders has played an integral role in raising the conference's attendance figures. The league is averaging 47,157 fans so far. It's the highest mark since 2017, when the Pac-12 averaged 49,621 over 78 home games.
What's more, eight of the 12 schools have increased their average home attendance from a year ago, according to research provided by the Pac-12. Leading the way is Colorado at plus-10,545, followed by Oregon State (plus-8,173) and Arizona State (plus-5,982). UCLA just announced Tuesday the game against Colorado at the Rose Bowl on Oct. 28 is a sellout.
It's a conference filled with ranked teams, too, including No. 9 Oregon, No. 12 Oregon State, No. 14 Utah, No. 18 USC and No. 25 UCLA. The league has seven straight weeks with at least six teams in the AP Top 25.
Television ratings are through the roof, too. There have been 11 college games this season that have topped the 7 million mark in viewership (across Nielsen-rated television), according to Sports Media Watch. Of the 11, five involved Colorado, including a 10.03 million viewership when the Buffaloes played Oregon on Sept. 23. Washington’s 36-33 win over Oregon last Saturday also eclipsed 7 million.
“It would have been very interesting to see what the options would have been if the Pac-12 was going to market now instead of a year ago,” said Jon Lewis, who started Sports Media Watch around 17 years ago to track sports TV ratings and rights deals.
The media rights plan was a sticking point after UCLA and Southern California announced their intention to leave. Colorado followed, bolting before Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff presented a proposed deal with Apple. And while it guaranteed yearly payouts of $23-25 million to each Pac-12 member school, there were also escalators based on subscriptions to the Pac-12 package. For many members, the deal was too risky and left them in danger of falling too far behind schools in other Power Five conferences.
"Based on what we saw this weekend with Washington and Oregon, what we’ve seen all season with Colorado, it’s obvious to me the Pac-12, at least as far as football, which is the biggest thing, could have easily withstood the departure of USC and UCLA,” Lewis said. “Maybe not in terms of whatever other various aspects that are factored into all of these discussions, but at least in terms of TV ratings.”
And that doesn't even include “SNL” ratings. Then again, how many college coaches get playfully spoofed on the show?
Comedian Kenan Thompson played the role of Coach Prime as he imitated the confidence of Sanders, saying: “We just keep winning, man. Every game. Every minute. We’re winning at life.”
Washington is winning on the field, with Penix leading the way and in the running for the Heisman (USC QB Caleb Williams won last year). Penix could very well lead the Huskies to a spot in the College Football Playoff, where a Pac-12 team hasn't been since the last time Washington was there following the 2016 season.
But there's a long way to go in a conference that's incredibly deep. The Huskies will face three teams that are currently ranked as they try to earn a spot in the Pac-12 championship game in Las Vegas on Dec. 1.
“The Pac-12 seems to be having a very strong year," Lewis said, “and a very strong finale.”