Saturday, January 28, 2012

Independence and Exposure: Access vs. Eyeballs

I will go on record here as one that hopes independence works out.  (Right about now, some of you are blowing up...)  To clarify, I am not for independence at all costs--I am for it working out, as long as it is better than any conference affiliation: more freedom, more money, better recruiting, more relevance, easier TV access, higher rankings, better opponents, more games in new parts of the country, good rivalries, etc. 

I hope it is.  It may not be.  In fact, it is probably impossible to get all of those in either scenario.  So, it’s important to both define and prioritize those aspirations.  And, it probably doesn't matter how I would prioritize them... the administration has already claimed that exposure is the name of the game.  Fair enough.  And, actually, probably not a bad pick, as it encompasses nearly all of the items above (except perhaps money).

Hear (read) me out...

Exposure is a function of:
1. Being TV accessible to households (Access)
2. Offering something that viewers will tune in to watch (Eyeballs)

This means being on TV and being on stations that as many people as possible have access to.  BYU has effectively solved this problem.  In fact, they have knocked it out of the park.  Between ESPN and BYUtv, the Cougars likely have more Access than any other team in the country... and it might not even be close, considering the ubiquity of BYUtv in the US as well as its international reach.  Only 3-4 other teams had as many as 10 games on an ESPN network.  And, no other team gets every last one of their 3rd tier games broadcast in 70M homes and across the world.

So… access, check-plus….
Advantage: Independence.

Getting viewers is another story… just because it’s on, doesn’t mean people will watch it.  There are several factors that make people want to watch your game (1-4 apply to both the team’s fanbase and the casual opportunistic viewer, while 5 pertains just to the teams fanbase):

1. Opponents: Who you are playing 
   o   Quality of opponents (ranked, brand names)  
   o   Region of country they are from  
   o   Opponents’ fan interest

2. Performance: How good your team is (record/ranking)
   o   Quality athletes (recruiting)  
   o   Competent coaching  
   o   Competitive facilities 
   o   Money to pay for coaches, facilities, and recruiting 
3. Relevance: What you are playing for and implications of outcome 
   o   BCS, conference championship, bowl game invitations 
4. Time Slot: What day and time do you play in 
5.  Competitive: How close is the game 
6. Watch-ability: Exciting style of play

So how is BYU doing on these metrics…

1. Opponents. This one is improving and looking up.  There are still some remnants of the WAC agreement on the 2012 schedule, but beyond that, the team is getting around the country, playing quality teams.  Conference affiliation with a major conference could also solve this, though with less freedom and regional variety. 
Advantage: Independence.
Task: Continue to prioritize scheduling of quality opponents, and if that proves too difficult, consider conference affiliation.

2. Performance.  As far as team quality goes… coaches, facilities, and money are essentially neutral, as BYU would not do much differently even with more; the bigger question then is recruiting, and whether one situation or another provides improved recruiting outcomes.   
Advantage: To be determined.
Task:  Closely follow the impacts of independence on recruiting.

3. Relevance.   As for implications of the outcome, unless BYU is in the BCS discussion (undefeated?), conference affiliation would be better.
Advantage: Conference.
Task: Win.  Consider creating things to play for (e.g. an independent championship?). Sign contracts for outcome-dependent post-season play.  Or, consider conference membership.

4. Time slot.  This depends on when you play as well as who else is playing at the same time.  Despite BYU’s late night kickoffs and Thur/Friday games, this last season, this was probably not a hindrance to viewership (though could be for game attendance).   More people are likely to watch the only game on a Friday night than a mediocre game on prime time (see Utah game).  And, even in a conference, they will be in the same boat.
Advantage: Neutral.
Task: Continue as is.

5. Competitivity.  This isn’t related to conference affiliation, as there will be close games and blowouts in both instances.
Advantage: Neutral.
Task: None.

6. Watch-ability.  The high-flying offensive reputation that BYU earned in the 1980’s, and still carries to some degree, is no longer accurate.  The number of low scoring games and 3-and-outs this season was more than I ever remember.  I am a passionate fan, and found myself bored at times by the drudgery of our offense.  I was usually more excited to watch our defense than our offense.  Exposure will truly “expose” the Cougars here.
Advantage: Neutral.
Task:  Utilize a more exciting style of play. 

Final Tally
Access: Independence
Eyeballs: Independece 1, Conference 1, Neutral 2, TBD 1, Unrelated 2
        Opponents: Independence
        Performance: TBD
        Relevance: Conference
        Time Slot: Neutral
        Competitivity: Neutral
        Watchability: Unrelated

Independence is clearly better for access (though a conference affiliation might come close, depending on the way contracts are negotiated).  That is generally undisputed.  But, it is also only half the battle.

As for eyeballs, it is currently a draw, though any negative impacts on recruiting from independence (or missed positive impacts from a conference), and thus impacts on team performance, should be closely monitored.  Additionally, employing a more exciting style of offensive play would add eyeballs regardless of the conference status, which in an independent world, might be essential.

So there you have it.  “Exposure” really is much more than being on TV, and as long as the administration is thinking of it in these terms—access AND eyeballs—I trust that they will be on top of things and make the best decision.


  1. I mostly agree, but you overlooked rivalry in section 5 (Competitivity). One huge aspect of being part of a conference is that you play the same teams each year. This results in a number of rivalries, (which bring in more viewers) especially for BYU. BYUs games with Wyoming and Air Force (in football) and SDSU and UNLV (in bball) were much more exciting than comparable games as independents (ISU, NMSU) because of the long track record.
    Other than that I think this post is spot on.

  2. Good point on rivalries. It could be part of relevance (advantage conference) or opponents (advantage independence) as well. New conference rivalries would surely be created in the Big 12 (Tech, Oklahoma, UT, TCU). Independence may also create or maintain some great rivalries (Utah, Boise, USU, Hawaii, Notre Dame).

  3. The relevance factor is going to be difficult as an independent so long as BYU gets off to a 2-2 or 1-2 start. Most teams would become irrelevant on the national scene at that point, at least until their record improved to 7-2 or 8-2, but a two or three loss BYU team (when those losses come early on) will be counted out, as we saw this year, for essentially the rest of the season.

    The early part of the season is all the more significant for a team like BYU, not only because of its low-clout status compared to the giants of college football, but also because most of BYU's heavy-weight opponents are likely to be scheduled in the first four weeks of the season. That, too, will gradually improve. But I think BYU's September schedule will continue to be one of the most challenging in the country. And as such, September's games will continue to have a disproportionate impact on BYU's success going forward.

    I heard Coach Mendenhall say he was going to focus on strategies to improve the team's September success. Here's hoping he is successful in that regard!