Boycott the BCS Advertisers: Our Only Shot at Ever Ending the BCSS


Here’s one of my 2009 New Year’s Resolutions a couple of weeks early: I hereby resolve not to consume the products of any company that advertises during the BCS Games for the entire month of January.

For purposes of this resolution consume is defined broadly. I’m not buying a car, a taco, a beer or insurance from the advertisers. I’d ask anyone who’s disgusted with the current state of college football in America to join me. Take a stand for one month to express your outrage over college football’s refusal to consider the wishes of their fans and institute a playoff.

We’re approaching 2009 and the dawn of yet another season of BCS controversy. The state of Texas is contemplating becoming a Republic again, there are four games no one gives two shits about and ESPN has ponied up $495 million for the rights to air the BCS games from 2011-2014. Next year your team could be the one getting screwed. About this time of year everyone complains about the BCS but no one ever comes up with a solution that actually makes sense to end the BCS. That's because most solutions involve not watching the games, not buying the tickets, or relying on college football presidents and the companies that make money off the BCS to come to their senses. Plainly, for true college football fans, none of these are viable options. So we all end up pissed with nothing to show for it. At least until now.

I've spent an awful lot of time thinking of ways that actual fans (who aren't billionaires) can have an impact on bringing about a playoff. And this is my idea—boycott the BCS advertisers.

After New Year’s you’ll have seven days to gear up for the BCS Championship Game between Oklahoma and Florida on January 8. There will be five BCS games in all and thanks to the continued allegiance of college football fans, all five of these games will garner high ratings. Last year’s Ohio State-LSU game brought in 23.1 million viewers. This year’s game will bring in even more viewers. And these numbers are one of the reasons why ESPN was willing to pay $495 million to steal away the broadcast rights from Fox.

Posting viewership like this enabled Fox to sell almost all of the advertising spots for their games before the match-up was even announced. How much did those spots sell for in 2008? Try a reported $500,000 for the non-title games and up to $950,000 for the title game spots. So there’s huge advertising money out there to support these games. Why? Because even if fans don’t particularly like the way college football selects their national champion, they’re still going to tune in to watch the games. Particularly men ages 18-49 who are the most difficult to reach for advertisers. Bingo, a flawed system still brings in a lucrative payoff.

That’s why calls for fan boycotts of the game have been so ineffective in the past. No matter how convoluted, communistic, or unfair the college football finale is, no fan will give up the chance to watch this game. College football fan outrage doesn’t trump college football fandom. Fair enough. I hate the BCS but you can bet I’m going to be sitting down and watching these games. So asking fans to boycott the games themselves either by not traveling to them or not watching them on television is a losing proposition.

But, here’s the deal, if we’ve learned anything in the modern media landscape it’s that advertising determines whether or not programming continues. If a program isn’t doing well enough in the ratings it gets pulled, because advertisers want to reach viewers. This is pretty basic stuff. Clearly ratings aren’t going to be an issue for BCS games. Millions are going to watch no matter who plays. But advertisers also want their products to be well-received. They don’t want to antagonize consumers by helping to promote causes, ideas, or beliefs that their consumers find offensive. Keep in mind it wasn’t a threatened boycott of listening to Don Imus’s radio show that was an issue after his controversial comments, it was one advertiser after another publicly announcing that they didn’t want to continue to be associated with his program and were consequently pulling their advertising dollars. Bang, Imus crumbled and his radio show (and its television simulcast) came to an end. At least for a while. You can agree or disagree with the decision to pull his show, but what you can’t dispute is that it was pressure from consumers against advertisers that brought about the show’s demise. And it was the public indignation regarding Imus's advertisers that got me really thinking, college football fans could do the same thing to BCS advertisers.

Only there are tens of millions more people who watch college football than ever listened to Don Imus on the radio. Plus, these tens of millions of BCS haters spend billions and billions of dollars on the products advertised during BCS games. Even a small minority of consumers choosing to switch away from their usual product selections for a month will be felt by these companies.

That’s why I’m encouraging fans not to support all the advertisers who buy commercial spots for the BCS games. But even that’s not enough. Instead support their competitors, the companies who weren’t willing to help prop up an illegitimate way to crown a college football champion. After all, in today's age most products are fairly fungible. Not only will you be taking from the pockets of the BCS advertisers, but you'll be enriching their competitors. Eventually those companies are going to notice.

Who are these advertisers? Well, we don’t know them all yet. That’s because Fox and ABC don’t release the names of their advertisers prior to the games. Not even when you call the companies and ask nicely. The individual companies can announce, however, and that's especially the case when they buy naming rights sponsorships for bowl games. Here are four big targets.

1. FedEx- For the month of January don’t even consider FedEx as your delivery service of choice. As both the named sponsor for the BCS Title Game and the Orange Bowl, it's hard to find a company that is more supportive of college football's communistic If you already have an account with FedEx consider switching next January to a company that doesn’t support the BCS as much as they do. Basically any competitor.
2. Tostitos- I eat Tostitos all the time while I'm watching college football. But, they’re dead to me for the month of January. And, fortunately for me, there are a billion other companies that make chips and aren't screwing up a playoff.
3. Citi- Isn't the sponsor of the Rose Bowl almost bankrupt anyway? In fact, is this sponsorship, shudder, being paid for by taxpayer dollars via the bailout?
4. AllState- Go to one of the other insurance companies if you're looking for insurance. Trust me, the companies aren't much different anyway.

This is just a start but it's the four most egregious advertisers helping to keep an illegitimate system afloat. Join me in taking the ultimate capitalistic stand against a totalitarian system, spend your money on their competitors who don't foist an unfair and illegitimate national champion upon us. And join the facebook petition in the process.

(Note: I originally wrote this as a ClayNation column for CBS. It was set to run on December 31, 2007 and then, the day it was set to go up, I received word that the editors at CBS decided this boycott idea might anger their own advertisers and so they wouldn't publish it. I respected their position but it made me realize just how much in bed with the BCS every major media company truly was. Nothing changes with college football because the power structure doesn't want anything to change. That's only going to get worse. Unless fans like you and me actually take control of the process.)

(Double Note: This will be my final post for Deadspin. At least for the foreseeable future. Don't worry, A.J. has assured me that when On Rocky Top hits stores this summer you'll all get a tasty excerpt featuring the largest amount of dick jokes per capita in the entire book. After I finish the book I'm honestly not sure exactly what I'm going to do. At least the economy is awesome. You can always find me at claytravis.net . Viva la BCS revolucion, Cle.)