Too much competition is causing the Rose Bowl to wilt in the ratings

December 27, 1990|By Steve Herbert | Steve Herbert,Los Angeles Times

Has the bloom gone off the Rose Bowl?

What used to be the New Year's Day college football bowl game isn't even the game from 2 to 5:30 p.m.

The annual matchup between the Big Ten and Pacific 10 champions has lost more than a third of its ratings appeal since 1983. Tuesday's game matching No. 8 Washington and No. 17 Iowa could see the ratings hit an all-time low.

Keith Jackson, who will call the game for ABC, cites increased competition -- especially from NBC's Sunkist Fiesta Bowl -- for the ratings drop.

"The Rose Bowl sat for so many years without a challenge, and finally the Fiesta Bowl dared to schedule themselves against the Rose Bowl (in 1989) and everyone discovered it is not that invincible," Jackson said. "I remember having many conversations with ABC Sports executives trying to get them to schedule the Sugar Bowl against the Rose Bowl. They wouldn't do it, but there was never any reason why they shouldn't have."

The Fiesta Bowl, born in 1971 and shifted to New Year's Day in time for the 1982 game, decided the national championship in 1987 and 1989. As the highest-paying bowl without a conference affiliation, it has been able to attract high-profile teams such as Nebraska, Miami, Michigan, Penn State, USC and UCLA.

But this year's Fiesta Bowl game lost luster after Notre Dame and Virginia chose other bowls after Arizona voters' rejection of a paid state holiday honoring civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. The game had to settle for No. 18 Louisville and unranked Alabama (7-4).

Meanwhile, the Rose Bowl's ratings have gone through an almost continual decrease since 1983. That year, UCLA's 24-14 victory over Michigan drew a 24.5 rating and was seen in approximately 20.4 million households, making it the highest-rated bowl game. The Rose Bowl hasn't come close to matching those numbers since.

Ratings dropped in each of the next two years before experiencing a slight increase in 1986. However, the rise proved to be temporary, with the 1987 and 1988 games receiving 17.7 and 16.5 ratings.

NBC, which began broadcasting the Rose Bowl on radio in 1927 and had been televising it since 1952, dropped the game in July 1988, even though there were two years left on its contract.

"The bottom line was we were suffering significant losses on the Rose Bowl," NBC Sports president Arthur Watson said at the time. "How much? Several millions, and I'm talking about more than $2 or $3 million per year."

Undaunted, ABC picked up the game, agreeing to pay out more than $100 million for the rights to televise the game for nine years.

But the ratings slide has continued. Last year's rating was 14.6, with the game being seen in 13.4 million households.

Bob Griese, Jackson's broadcast partner, argues that the game has not lost any of its luster.

"The Rose Bowl is the Rose Bowl," Griese said.

The 77th Rose Bowl will be facing more television competition than ever before.

There will be a record eight bowl telecasts Tuesday, guaranteeing football from the 11:30 a.m. kickoff of ESPN's Mazda Gator Bowl between Michigan and Mississippi to the approximate 8:30 p.m. conclusion of ABC's Virginia-Tennessee USF&G Sugar Bowl.

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