Has the bloom gone off the Rose Bowl?
The annual New Year's Day matchup between the Big Ten and Pacific 10 champions has lost more than a third of its ratings appeal since 1983. Tuesday's game between Iowa and Washington 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 people 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, launched in Tempe, Ariz., in December 1971 and shifted to Jan. 1 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 (Fla.), Notre Dame, Penn State, USC and UCLA.
But this year's game was diminished when Notre Dame and Virginia chose other bowls after Arizona voters rejected a paid state holiday honoring civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. The Fiesta had to settle for No. 18 Louisville (9-1-1) 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 win 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, respectively.
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," then NBC Sports president Arthur Watson said at the time. "How much? Several millions, and I'm talking about more than $2 million or $3 million per year."
Undaunted, ABC picked up the game, agreeing to pay out more than $100 million for the rights to televise it 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. "I don't think it matters who plays, you'll get a lot of people tuning in just because of the tradition. If you don't see the Rose Bowl and parade, you're just not starting the year off correctly."
According to Jackson, the game's ties with the Big Ten and Pac-10 conferences guarantee it a measure of ratings success.
"The Rose Bowl will always do pretty well in the ratings as long as the Big Ten association is there because you have so many population centers tied to the Big Ten, plus Los Angeles," Jackson said. "It won't always be first, but it will never be last."
For USC, the Game Will Be on New Year's Eve
USC, which has played in 29 New Year's Day bowls, including the last three Rose Bowls, makes a New Year's Eve appearance for the second time when the Trojans face Michigan State in the John Hancock Bowl at El Paso, Tex., Monday at 11:30 a.m. on CBS.
"This is one of the very best matchups," USC Coach Larry Smith said. "We have a much more attractive game than some of the New Year's Day games. This is a real clash between hard-nosed teams that will play hard. When all is said and done, it should have one of the highest ratings of all the bowl games."
Michigan State is lead by running back Tico Duckett.
Have a Bowl on New Year's Day
Can't get enough college football? This day's for you.
Gator Bowl: Michigan (8-3) vs. Mississippi (9-2), 8:30 a.m., 12:30 a.m. ESPN.
Hall of Fame Bowl: Clemson (9-2) vs. Illinois (8-3), 10 a.m. (4)(36)(39).
Citrus Bowl: Georgia Tech (10-0-1) vs. Nebraska (9-2), 10:30 a.m. (7)(3)(10)(42).
Cotton Bowl: Texas (10-1) vs. Miami (Fla.) (9-2), 10:30 a.m. (2)(8).
Fiesta Bowl: Louisville (9-1-1) vs. Alabama (7-4), 1:30 p.m. (4) (36)(39).
Rose Bowl: Washington (9-2) vs. Iowa (8-3), 2 p.m. (7)(3) (10)(42).
Orange Bowl: Colorado (10-1-1) vs. Notre Dame (9-2), 5 p.m. (4)(36)(39).
Sugar Bowl: Virginia (8-3) vs. Tennessee (8-2-2), 5:30 p.m. (7)(3)(10)(42).