Jacks were on ESPNU but who watched?



Frost Arena was abuzz, or so I was told, two weeks ago when the ESPN trucks pulled into campus to broadcast “The First Nationally Televised Game from Frost Arena” (that phrase almost got as old as Linsanity) for ESPNU’s BracketBusters.

The Jacks were fortunate enough to earn one of 11 games on TV, albeit ESPNU, against the Buffalo Bulls – a testament to the type of season the SDSU men are having.

It was a historic day in the athletic history of the school and would bring with it unprecedented national exposure. This was the big time. This was ESPN(U). But how many people actually watched the game?

The SDSU vs. Buffalo game on Saturday, Feb. 18 averaged 38,000 homes and 41,000 viewers. It was the lowest rated BracketBuster game, behind only Columbia at Princeton on Friday night in overall viewers on the ESPN networks for the weekend.

The Buffalo market drew the highest metered market rating for the game followed by Cleveland, Austin, Raleigh- Durham and Chicago. South Dakota is not a metered market, which obviously affects that viewership numbers a little, and the closest Nielsen market is Minneapolis.

To put it into better perspective, lets say that the 5,378 people that were at Frost Arena that day represented all the homes that ESPNU was in, in the country. If you picked out 2.8 of those people, that would represent how many of those with access to ESPNU watched the game.

For a comparison of how games have done on ESPNU thus far this season, there have been 33 games on Saturday afternoons this season. Those games have averaged 123,000 homes and 155,000 viewers. Games in that early Saturday afternoon time slot were higher than the average overall. ESPNU has aired 231 games this season thus far.

The fact that South Dakota is not part of the rating may concern some, but not me. The point of getting a game on an ESPN channel was to broaden the scope of SDSU. The fans in the region are going to watch SDSU regardless of if they are on ESPNU or Midco Sports Network. The hype around the game was high because SDSU was on the national stage, not a regional one like the rest of their games. It’s actually easier to figure out just how many “new” eyes the game had without the South Dakota viewers figured in.

Looking at the network’s six BracketBusters games on ESPN and ESPN 2 (two on Feb. 17 and four on the 18th) they averaged a 0.1 rating.

A 1.0 rating for ESPNU would be an average of 725,000 homes. For ESPN and ESPN2, it would be 990,000 homes. A 1.0 rating means that it is 1% of a network’s “universe” (total number of homes that receive it). Therefore, a 0.1 rating would equate to about 99,000 viewers, which is where the Oral Roberts vs. Akron game fell.

The top five markets for the ORU games was Tulsa, Cleveland, Austin, Las Vegas and Oklahoma City. It was up against Marquette/ Connecticut and Missouri/ Texas A&M on ESPN.

The original idea that I had for this story was to compare the ESPNU ratings to the ratings that SDSU gets when they are on Midco Sports Network, especially against a team like South Dakota or North Dakota State.

While I could not get specific numbers when it came to games broadcast on Midco when exchanging emails with Midco Sports Network General Manager Barry Buetel, he did say that college basketball on the network has been very successful.

“Because Midco Sports Network is still in our early stages of development, we have just recently received some information with regard to viewership. Although I can’t deliver specific numbers with regard to SDSU coverage, I can tell you that our Division I basketball coverage as a whole has done extremely well.”

Buetel continued, “ESPN’s national coverage is difficult depending on the match ups, but we also consistently outnumber ESPN2 and Big 10 Network.”

“The focus of Midco Sports Network is to provide “hometown” coverage and we are seeing our viewership numbers increase month by month. We are definitely excited about the direction we’re heading, and our relationship with SDSU has definitely been a factor, so we are hoping to continue what we hope will be a mutually-beneficial relationship,” Buetel said.

People were making such a big deal with the ESPN name attached that everyone just assumed it was the greatest thing ever. I think that the difference between the ESPNU game and an SDSU vs. USD or NDSU game on Midco Sports (especially with the Fargo market) would be less than most people would think.

“It is safe to say that the SDSU vs. USD basketball game was among our highest rated programs,” said Buetel. “The Dakota Marker game between SDSU and NDSU also is among the highest. Again, the rivalries create attention and interest from everyone.”

Having their first home game on an ESPN channel was a nice moment for SDSU and something that they will no doubt not forget for a while, but when it comes right down to it, it remains to be seen what kind of an impact it will have, if any.