Jon M. Huntsman School of Business

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Friday, February 17, 2012

C-USA / MWC Merger and its Impact on Utah State University Football

The world’s biggest college sports conference is coming your way in about 18 months.  Spanning from Hawaii to Central Florida, its 24 members will be strewn across the USA.  Yes sports fans, Fresno State will be in the same conference as Southern Mississippi.  East Carolina will be a conference rival of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.  Get out the popcorn for these intra-conference rivalries!

So where does this leave Utah State University and its WAC affiliation?  Better off.  This 24-team atrocity is doomed to failure, just like the 16-team WAC experiment flamed out after just two years back in 1998.  USU is better off sitting on the sidelines for this one.

There was this interesting commentary on the C-USA / MWC Merger by Chadd Scott last week.

He proposes for smaller D-1 schools, that rather than trying to compete with the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC and the likes, they instead create small, boutique conferences …with every team within driving distance. 

Not only would it cut down on travel costs, but it would create more local rivalries.  Does anyone at USU feel strongly when Louisiana Tech rolls into town?  Wouldn’t it be more likely to rev up the engines if Boise State, Idaho State, Utah State, Wyoming, Colorado State, and Air Force Academy were its own conference (and possibly BYU if they were to let them do their own TV deal)?  If a D-2 regional conference had Weber State, Utah Valley University, BYU-Idaho, Southern Utah, Westminster, SLCC, and possibly Dixie? 

Of course, the major college football world is driven by TV money, and the big dollar signs that the top conferences are getting is what is driving the C-USA / MWC merger.  But it won’t work.  Ohio State v. Michigan, USC v. UCLA, LSU v. Alabama…those conference matchups are much more compelling for television than Marshall v. Nevada, New Mexico v. East Carolina, or Alabama-Birmingham v. Colorado State.  The TV deal this new super-conference ends up with won’t amount to much more (if not less), than the current TV monies those conference members now receive.

Just to test this theory, I looked at the attendance figures at Utah State University for the past 64 home football games, dating back to 2000.  Here’s what I found, which supports the “boutique conference” concept:

Average Attendance (All 64 games):  16,507
Avg. Attendance – Boutique Conf. Teams (14 games):  20,826 (+26%)
Avg. Attendance:  D-2 Regionals + Univ. of Utah (9 games): 22,712 (+38%)
And here is the average attendance by longer-distance conference opponents over the years (San Jose State, Nevada, N. Mexico State, Louisiana Tech, Hawaii, Fresno State):  23 games:  12,708 (-23%).

For schools like Utah State, it’s about butts in seats, not TV money.  And when Utah State hosts a more local opponent, there is, on average, an 8,000 person positive swing.  At $25 / ticket, that’s $200,000 more ticket revenue per game…over six home games, an increase in over $1 million dollars.

For Utah State, the best move is to focus on scheduling as many “local” rivals as possible; wait for the implosion of the C-USA / MWC, then be ready to propose the following new boutique conference:

Utah State
Colorado State
Idaho State
Air Force Academy
Boise State

Then, if Utah State focused its non-conference schedule on including every year two of these:

Weber State
Southern Utah

That would leave 3 or 4 other non-conference games with which to try to schedule from the “power” conferences. 

The school would make more money, incur smaller travel costs, and fan interest would increase.  Win-Win-Win.

Eric D. Schulz is the co-director of strategic marketing and brand management at the Jon M Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University. Prior to joining the University, he spent five years as Vice-President of Marketing for the Utah Jazz (NBA); he previously was VP of Marketing with the XFL Football League, and served as a general manager in minor league baseball. He can be reached at

1 comment:

  1. The games are regional, there will not be regular season games spanning both divisions. The MW teams will play regular season games and a championship game in division. Only the winner of this semi-final game will pay the c-USA winner. That really renders your biggest point moot. Usu would play Fresno state , Nevada, sjsu, csu, UNLV, etc. but the team stands to gain considerable revenue and tv exposure. It would be terrible for usu to win the MW division by beating a team such as AFA and then have to travel to las Vegas to play ECU or USM in an alliance championship game. The WAC will die if the MW comes calling for two teams or more. Maybe the Idaho's and NMSU's will have to latch on to the sun belt, but staying out of the alliance is the sure way to obscurity. Read up on the plans before you post. Unless you think USU would do better back with Benson in the Sun Belt. More networks exist since the time of the WAC 16. There are more opportunities available than back then. There wasn't an ESPNU, only 11 games and fewer bowls. To let this go by will be a first class ticket to the third row.