The nation's pastime is, once again, getting passed by as college football is set to overtake Major League Baseball as the second-most popular sport in the nation, due to a number of factors.
Between rising championship game attendance and television viewership, more ad dollars, and the elimination of the oft-maligned BCS bowl system, college football will soon be No. 2 — right behind the National Football League in popularity.
While 16 percent of Americans still say baseball is their favorite sport, college football only trails at 11 percent popularity. And though baseball is still number two, according to a Harris poll conducted Dec. 12-18, college football is nabbing a crucial demographic.
Ad Age reports that baseball was most popular with those 50-64 of age and midwesterners. College football grabbed the coveted 18-24-year-old fan base, as well as more southerners than did baseball. Thirty-four percent of Americans still said professional football is their favorite sport.
Sports columnists say even more fans will rally around college football when the league reformats next season.
In 2014, the controversial BCS system that the NCAA uses to select premier bowl-game teams will go the way of the buffalo. A new, four-team playoff bracket will take place and air on ESPN. Analysts say the current system led to fractured demographics, regional politics, and conference rivalries. More viewers will flock as the teams that were once excluded from the big bouts might now stand a chance for the big time.
That will mean big money for the broadcasters, and college football advertising dollars are already on the rise. ESPN sold 85 percent of its ad space for the championship prior to broadcast, according to Ad Age. But, in the days leading up to the game, 30-second spots went for $1 million a pop. That's about a third of the cost of the same length of spot during the Super Bowl. Already, advertisers spend more annually on college football than on baseball: $975 vs. $784 million, according to Nielsen.
As for the viewers of the 2013 championship game, it carried a 15.7 overnight rating, a 14 percent increase over last year's broadcast, according to Nielsen ratings. And 17 TV markets across the United had the highest rating for a bowl game ever shown on ESPN, Forbes
The championship game drew 80,120 fans to Florida's Sun Life Stadium, according to The Associated Press, breaking the 2009 championship game record for the most-attended bowl game.
Yet, Forbes pointed to secondary ticket sales dropping for this year's championship. And maybe the 2013 Sugar Bowl was one of the most poorly attended on record. But 11 percent more TV viewers still watched the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl than in 2012.
A 2011 ESPN poll put college football ahead of baseball, as well. College football's fan base was 63.6 percent, vs. baseball's 60 percent; 24.2 percent of respondents said they were "avid" fans of college football, against the MLB's 20.6 percent.
This isn't to say baseball is in trouble. The MLB raked in $7.5 billion in revenue last year, its 10th consecutive season of growth.
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