No matter that Florida breezed past Ohio State, 41-14, in last year's Bowl Championship Series title game. The number that mattered to Fox Sports and its national advertisers and bowl sponsors was 27.7 million -- the viewers who tuned in and gave Fox its strongest Monday night showing in years.
The game was the first national championship broadcast by Fox under a wide-ranging media rights deal that includes the ability to sell bowl sponsorships, in-stadium signage and, perhaps most important, the right to plug the easily recognizable bowl logos into its broadcasts and its business partners' advertising and marketing campaigns.
"What Fox did from a national advertiser's perspective was allow us to get our [bowl] relationships without having to go from bowl to bowl to bowl to bowl," said Debbie Myers, vice president of media services, entertainment and licensing at Taco Bell, which last year signed on as the "official quick service restaurant" of the BCS.
Fox structured the deal to offer what advertising industry executives call "one-stop shopping" for the FedEx Orange, Allstate Sugar and Tostitos Fiesta bowls. (The Rose Bowl has its own broadcasting arrangement with ABC.)
Taco Bell, Allstate and other big corporate advertisers now can sign on one dotted line to purchase commercial time, arrange for seats on the 50-yard line, put their logos inside BCS stadiums and push their promotions directly into the Fox broadcast.
The deal, which first had to be approved by colleges, athletic conferences and bowl officials, was predicated on a simple premise, according to Neal Pilson, a New York City-based media consultant: "They figured that corporate advertisers would pony up more money because there's clearly added value to this kind of comprehensive package."
"The synergies are great," said Tom McGovern, director of U.S. sports media services for OMD, a New York-based advertising and media giant that represents such BCS players as Tostitos and FedEx. "There's nothing else of this magnitude that [clients] can put their names on."
The BCS games provide what Paul Swangard, managing director of the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Institute, describes as "their own mini-Super Bowl platform. It's an overarching media platform that didn't exist before, and it has the potential to generate incremental dollars that people 10 years ago never could have dreamed would exist."
The BCS deal also gave Fox the right to bundle Orange, Fiesta and Sugar bowl logos into advertising and sponsorship deals -- a right that's rare in sports marketing.
"If you do a deal with, say, NASCAR, you do a licensing deal with them and then come to us to try and buy" commercial time, said Neil Mulcahy, executive vice president of advertising sales for Fox Sports. "The beauty of what we've got is that we can sell the [Orange, Fiesta and Sugar] bowl marks in our package."
The deal seems to be paying off for Fox. Television industry sources say it is charging as much as $500,000 for a 30-second commercial in one of its three BCS games and up to $950,000 for a 30-second spot in the Allstate BCS championship game. Fox had effectively sold all of its time even before the network ran its BCS selection show on Dec. 2.