In the history of televised sports, I'm not sure there's been a more hilariously apt description of a big moment than Brent Musburger's call at the end of the 2011 BCS National Championship Game between the Auburn Tigers and the Oregon Ducks. As Auburn kicker Wes Byrum prepared to attempt a 19-yard field goal that would cinch Cam Newton and the Tigers their title, the crowd in Glendale, Ariz., went quiet, ready for history. And Musburger was ready, saying the six little words that would secure this moment in college football legend.
This … is for all the Tostitos.
The game, of course, was titled the 2011 Tostitos BCS National Championship Game, and Musburger, perhaps unwittingly, was doing his part. Never before has the outcome of a college football game -- and the actual spoils to the winning players -- been broken down so succinctly. The winner of this game will get all of the tortilla chips. Though even that would probably be an NCAA violation.
The real winner, of course, was Tostitos, which, according to ESPN's Darren Rovell (who would know), received $2.5 million in "free" advertising value with Musburger's phrasing. In a game where 100 men were smashing into each other at terrifying speeds for our entertainment, the true champions are always the old white men spilling salsa on their khakis in the skybox.
Which is why it was a bit stunning yesterday when Tostitos -- and by "Tostitos," I mean "a well-compensated corporate spokesperson for the Frito-Lay company" because brands cannot in fact talk -- announced that it was getting out of the bowl game business. Along with Discover -- which had sponsored the Orange Bowl -- Tostitos is taking its name off the Fiesta Bowl once the College Football Playoff begins this year. There was no formal explanation for the move; again, brands can't talk.
But ESPN, which holds the rights to the six bowl games of the College Football Playoff -- the semifinals, the finals and the three "at-large" bowls -- is likely not weeping, and not just because brands can't weep either. The primary reason Tostitos took its name off the Fiesta Bowl, most believe, is because ESPN's prices have been jacked so high with the new playoff. Sports Business Journal reports ESPN is asking nearly $25 million -- $5-$10 million more than previously -- for name sponsorship of the top six bowls. That was too pricey for Tostitos, but not for Capital One and Northwestern Mutual, which will sponsor the Orange and Rose Bowls, respectively. Remember, these aren't the Capital One Bowl and the Northwestern Mutual Bowl. They're the Capital One Orange Bowl and the Rose Bowl brought to you by Northwestern Mutual. That's a lot of money for Northwestern Mutual to pay to be separated by a dependent clause.
When ESPN signed its deal with "the group that will administer the new college football playoff" in 2012, the money involved seemed staggering. It was a $5.64 billion deal over 12 years … to show six games a year. That's $470 million a year. To compare, Fox gives Major League Baseball $500 million a year to show baseball games every Saturday, the All-Star Game, the ALCS and the World Series. It appeared an amazing number for something that, when they signed the deal, did not exist yet.
But if they're charging $25 million for simply slapping a name on the title of the bowl, well, that changes matters. Let's do the math. At $470 million for six games, ESPN is paying $78.3 million for the rights to broadcast each game. So knock off $25 million right there. (And note that some people even estimate the price could go as high as $35 million.) During the national championship game two years ago, a 30-second ad cost $1 million; that will surely go up next year and in future years in this 12-year deal. The Wall Street Journal found that the average NFL game featured a full hour of commercials; that could be $100-$120 million, not counting in-game ads. All of a sudden: $78.3 million a game, even accounting for the cost of broadcasting the game itself (considered about $200,000), looks like a bargain. It sort of looks like ESPN got a steal.
If they're charging that much for commercials, why wouldn't they ask $25-$35 million for sponsorship? Tostitos, which has been involved with college football for nearly two decades, finally decided that was too rich for their blood, but there's little doubt other sponsors won't jump at the opportunity. Are we ready for a broadcaster to tell us that this field goal is for all the Cialis? This would likely increase athlete motivation considerably more than stale chips.
That's of course the ugliest part of all this, what takes it from a simple sports business story into something grosser: One of the main reasons these numbers can get so high is because the margins are so low … because you don't have to pay the players. Imagine how much networks would clamor to put a sitcom on the air in which the cast worked for free. We are talking about potentially more than $150 million in revenue for a single game. And the people playing it don't see a lick of it. Every dime makes it feel that much more insane. Tostitos isn't willing to play this game anymore. Dozens of others will be more than happy.
We close with our old pal Wes Byrum, the man who, theoretically, should be bathing in Tostitos right now, and forever. What's he up to these days?
Just saw a commercial for ninja turtles... Mind blown— Wes Byrum (@wesbyrum) June 6, 2014
Mind blown, indeed.