Gator Bowl Viewership Record Could Pay Dividends
The Husker Nation got to enjoy a nice victory by team on New Year's Day over Georgia. Thankfully, they did it in sufficient number (along with Bulldog fans) to set a viewership record for bowl games aired on ESPN2. That might not seem particularly meaningful or important right now, but when the time comes to hand out bowl bids a year from now it's the kind of statistic that can absolutely be a tipping point for choosing one team over another.
Look no further than how bowl bids were handed out this year. Six teams are guaranteed BCS bowl bids as automatic qualifiers from their conference. From there, bowls are allowed to exercise some discretion in who they choose. This year, we saw Oregon get passed over for Oklahoma and Clemson by the Sugar and Orange Bowls despite having a higher BCS ranking.
Likewise, in the Big Ten we saw Michigan taken ahead of Nebraska and Minnesota by the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl despite an inferior win-loss record and a head-to-head loss to NU. That had as much to do with the number of Michigan fans expected to tune in for the game as anything else.
You could point to Nebraska's ticket sales through the athletic department as something of a demerit in this whole process. Yes and no. It's certainly a positive to sell all of the tickets, but in a lot of ways that's an NU problem and not the bowl committee's concern. The bowl organizers get paid by the schools for that ticket allotment regardless of whether the tickets are actually sold or not. In that sense, it made little difference to bowl organizaers whether NU sold 3,000 tickets or 12,000.
The bowl organizers do look at the overall attendance though. In that sense, this year was not a great one by historical standards. Still, the fact that it was raining all day in Jacksonville has to be taken into consideration. Roughly 60,000 tickets were distributed for the game. That's more than the 48,000 who saw the game a year ago between Northwestern and Mississippi State.
Taken altogether, the doubling of the TV rating and the record-setting performance have to reflect well on both Nebraska and Georgia when it comes time to hand out future bowl bids. That will be very important if the Huskers once again fall into a competitive range with other teams where bowl committees are allowed to exercise discretion. Put another way, be glad you're not a fan of Minnesota or Northwestern.