Advertisers, football fans happy with shift on TV coverage, but colleges may not be

Advertisers of office equipment, cars, beverages - and a host of other products with ads aimed at a male audience - used to wait in line to buy advertising time during college football broadcasts.

But that was last year.

The Supreme Court decision this year that ended the National Collegiate Athletic Association's domination of college football broadcasts came as the NCAA was negotiating a new four-year contract yielding most broadcast rights to ABC and CBS. At an end was the association's 33-year reign as sole bargaining agent for the colleges.

For advertisers, the ruling created all the pandemonium of a fans storming the goalposts in college football season, which is drawing to a close for this year. And for viewers, it more than doubled the number of games to choose from on a Saturday afternoon as independent syndicators and cable television rushed in after the ruling.

The court decision was aimed at increasing individual colleges' take from TV advertising revenues and spreading it more evenly among big colleges and smaller schools. Trade sources estimate that advertisers paid the networks more than $ 800 million last year to carry college football games and commericals to 100 million viewers during the regular season.

''There's no question but TV football fans are the winner'' as a result of the court decision, says Jack Otter, senior vice-president and director of network programming at SSC&B/Lintas Worldwide, one of the major advertising agencies headquartered in New York.

Advertisers were winners, too. A college football advertiser has a much greater choice of games to sponsor now, and his costs are down even though audiences are down, too.

But colleges that should have benefited from the court's ruling may be the losers. ''Some of the syndicators who rushed into the fray without enough time to put their packages together lost money and may not be back next year. . . ,'' Mr. Otter says. ''As the colleges lose the revenue from the licensing of their games, their athletic departments, along with fringe sports and new women's sports programs, will be the most likely losers.''

Frank P. MacDonald, vice-president for media and marketing of New York's Cunningham & Walsh advertising agency, noted that the increased number of games has also offered advertisers more to choose from: ''Some advertisers doubt whether the enlarged availability of college football games has actually increased the number of TV viewers on a Saturday afternoon.''

In fact, he adds, the number of viewers for a particular game has shown a drop in gross rating points - or the percentage of viewers watching a particular broadcast. This has resulted in a softening of the price for commercial time for college broadcasts, he says, with a spillover effect that carries into the three networks' broadcasts of pro football.

''The net winners are the advertisers, and it looks like their gains will carry into '85-86 football season, because they're in a better bargaining position,'' Mr. MacDonald says. He echoes Mr. Otter's observation that the colleges may be the net losers. ''Surprisingly, the colleges themselves - the ones that are supposed to benefit - are disappointed, because they are losing revenue from advertising dollars.''

Another view of the ruling's challenge to advertisers comes from Fred Dubin, vice-president and broadcast supervisor at N. W. Ayer, one of the country's largest and oldest ad agencies: ''We believe the proliferation of college footbal games on the air this season had to have an effect on NFL football viewing as well. There's only so much football even an avid TV fan can watch.''

Pro-football ratings, he notes, are off 10 to 13 percent, depending on network.

''There's more commercial time available and the opportunity for advertisers to shop around for bargains,'' Mr. Dubin says.

As for college football broadcasts, he notes, ''The total audience viewing college football has gone up, but viewers per game have not. The packager, or syndicator, has rushed to offer advertisers more to choose from, and this has put the advertisers in an even stronger bargaining position.

''In some cases, the syndicators were late in putting their packages together ,'' Mr. Dubin says, ''and there was great uncertainty about how this season would work out. In fact, a lot of this year's syndicators may not still be here when next season rolls around.''

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