America's Home for College Sports

The Largest, Most Attractive Fan Base in Sports

For marketers, college is the place to be, as intercollegiate athletics continues to grow in fan interest and value.

Examined in every key metric, college sports are more popular than ever. The highly attractive college sports fan base - the biggest in sports and growing - is driving sponsor participation, the launch of new conference networks, and media rights increases. All told, the entire industry has invested $25.5 billion to college rights fees over the next 15 years. For its part, IMG's multi-billion dollar rights commitments to our university and conference partners over the next decade demonstrate a steadfast bullishness on the value of the college space and our pride in serving our nation's institutions of higher learning.

The booming business of college sports continues to show significant promise due to one simple reason: all those people watching, attending games, cheering, purchasing school merchandise, and supporting the institutions of higher education so important to our society. All told, the fans of college sports comprise the largest, wealthiest, most diverse, and best educated base audience in all of sports.

Strong Demos

Beyond their massive numbers, college sports fans are intensely passionate about their school teams. College graduates exhibit off-the-charts loyalty to their respective schools, a connection that carries over to supporting team sponsors. The tight bonds between fans and schools endure a lifetime. People may change homes and cities; they'll never trade the name of their alma mater on their diplomas.

"Pride" and "pageantry" aptly describe college sports. The games are thrilling, for sure (there's a reason "buzzer beater" originated on the college basketball floor). Beyond the drama unfolding for ten months of the year on fields and courts across America, the inimitable pomp and circumstance - brassy bands, colorful mascots, flying cheerleaders, boisterous fight songs and post-game parties - helps explain why more fans (more than 114 million last year) attend college events than any other sport. (Four of IMG College's football school partners averaged 100,000 fans every game last season.) The entire crowd-pleasing experience of college sports events has been noted by the experts - sports executives who present the teams and leagues to sponsors and media partners. These professionals ranked college football tops in best in-person experience, according to a 2012 Turnkey survey. College basketball ranked third. (The NHL was number two.)

The fun, folksy traditions surrounding the games serve to bring attention to the true heroes on the field, student athletes "playing for the name on the front rather than the back of the jersey." With students as the star attraction, fans perceive and value college sports in distinct ways. College sports bring feelings of "Tradition," "Pride," "Sportsmanship" and a "Sense of Belonging," fans tell us in surveys. In our fast-moving, cynical world, these wholesome American values fuel college fans' desire to soak up just about everything linked to their favorite university teams.

Consider the unparalleled bonds to colleges, the respect for hard-working student athletes, the intense regional pride universities engender, and the sheer fun and energy of college sports. It's no surprise more people attended college events than any other sport, or bought more college team apparel in the past year than the gear of any other sports property. Or, that two of the three most viewed sports championships in 2012 (the BCS and Final 4) were competitions among American universities.

Yes, college sports have the most fans... and for all the right reasons.

"College sports provide more money for scholarships than any single source outside of the federal government."

Fan Base Growth

“Examined in major metrics, college sports are more popular than ever,” says Dr. Richard Luker, founder of the ESPN Sports Poll. “When you compare the major individual sports Americans have followed over the past 20 years, not much has changed…with one exception – the surging growth of college football.”

Indeed, more than 49 million Americans attended college football games last year, more than twice as many as the next popular live sport. College football television viewership has grown as well:

  • College football was the top-rated overall program on four of the first five Saturday nights of the 2013 season.
  • CBS. FOX and ESPN's cable networks each saw gains for the respective college football telecasts in 2013.
  • The SEC on CBS averaged 7.4 million viewers, a 20% jump from 2012. CBS had its best college football season since 2001.
  • FOX averaged 3.1 million viewers for its college football gmaes, +10% from 2012.
  • ESPN's college football slate gained across all nets - averaging 2.6 million viewers (+2.6% from '12); ESPN2's game viewership was up 8% and ESPNU increased 4%.

The Bowl Season continued college football's momentum. Many Bowl games enjoyed massive jumps in viewership.

Bowl Growth Highlights

The BCS Championship averaged nearly 25.6 million viewers and a 14.4 U.S. household fast national Nielsen rating, the third largest audience of any program in cable TV history. The combined BCS “Megacast,” which included IMG’s Auburn and Florida State radio calls on ESPN3, pushed viewership over 26 million/14.8 rating.

The Allstate Sugar Bowl’s average 16.3 million viewers (9.3 HH rating) was the most-viewed Sugar Bowl since 2004, a strong 61% increase in viewership and 50% higher rating than last year’s game. 

Ratings for the 100th Rose Bowl soared – ESPN’s 11.2 overnight rating was up 17% over 2013.

The Chick-fil-A Bowl scored big gains – the 5.3 rating was up 17.8% from last year’s 4.5 Nielsen rating.

The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl’s 7.1 overnight rating and 10.6 million viewers was up 9.2% from previous season’s New Year’s night game from the Orange Bowl.

The five BCS games this past season averaged a very healthy 16.5 million viewers and a 9.4 household score, up 9% and 7% respectively over last year’s quintet of games, according to Nielsen.

The Discover Orange Bowl drew 11.4 million viewers (+8% vs. 2012) and a 6.7 (+10%) fast national Nielsen rating.

The top three cable programs of all time are college football broadcasts – all BCS Championship Games.

Want to learn more?

To find out more about how College Sports can work for your business, contact us.