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ESPN still loves BYU's TV ratings

Midway through the contract signed in 2010, ESPN claims its love fest with BYU continues.

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Four years into ESPN's eight-year contract with BYU, it seems that the network is still willing to claim it has a winner with the big television contract the two parties signed back in 2010. Under that deal, BYU is guaranteed a payday of $800,000 to $1.2 million for each of their home games until 2018.

"No question, we are thrilled with the relationship we have with BYU," Ilan Ben-Hanan, ESPN's vice president of programming and acquisitions told the Salt Lake Tribune. "It remains every bit as strong as the day we signed the deal.

"They're fantastic to work with. They've done a great job on the field."

Is Ben-Hanan for real or is he just trying to put lipstick on this pig?

And why do I ask?

Because of the dismal TV ratings and viewers that BYU and the network thought it could deliver. Here is a sample of the games against the best teams on BYU's 2014 schedule:

August 29, season opener on Monday at Connecticut: TV ratings 0.7, 1.08M viewers (ESPN)

September 5, BYU vs. Texas: TV ratings  0.5, 910K viewers ( FS1)

September 11, on Thursday night vs. Houston: TV ratings 0.6, 1.05M viewers (ESPN)

September 20, BYU vs. Virginia: TV ratings 1.0, 1.64M viewers (ESPN)

Those below-average ratings and viewership came as BYU went 4-0 and before the Cougars had even lost their starting quarterback. Even the game on October 23, BYU vs Boise State, drew a rating of only 0.6 and a viewership of just 1.02 million (ESPN). This game was one of Boise State's lowest draws.

Here are BYU's ratings and viewership for 2014 postseason play:

December 22, Miami Beach Bowl:  TV rating: 0.9, 1.32M viewers (ESPN)

Now compare that to MWC teams in postseason play:

December 20, New Mexico Bowl, Utah State vs. UTEP: TV rating 1.3, 1.92M viewers (ESPN)

December 20, Las Vegas Bowl, Colorado State vs. Utah:  TV rating1.4, 2.12M viewers (ABC)

December 20, New Orleans Bowl, Nevada vs. Louisiana-Lafayette:  TV rating 1.6, 2.25M viewers (ESPN)

December 20, Potato Bowl, Air Force vs. Western Michigan:  TV rating 0.9, 1.45 viewers (ESPN)

December 23, Poinsettia Bowl, Navy vs. SDSU:  TV rating 1.6, 2.46M viewers (ESPN)

December 24, Hawaii Bowl, Fresno State vs. Rice:  TV rating 1.3, 1.91M viewers (ESPN)

December 31, Fiesta Bowl, Boise State vs. Arizona:  TV rating 4.6, 7.41M viewers (ESPN)

Could ESPN's love affair with BYU and the huge paydays be coming to an end? Maybe. It does not help that in each of the past three seasons, an independent BYU has posted consecutive 8-5 seasons. Independence so far has revealed that as a stand-alone team, BYU is a good, but not in any way superior, FBS product.

There was an article back in September in which BYU was said to be talking with the American Conference about membership. Perhaps BYU was hoping to use that as leverage to squeeze a membership offer from the Big 12 or to get a scheduling agreement with the Mountain West.

It's no secret that the Mountain West would like to have BYU back as a full member, but it is unlikely that it will happen in the foreseeable future, if it ever happens at all. If ESPN declined to renew its contract with the Cougars, then all bets would be off, but ESPN seems to be happy with their deal to broadcast BYU football games. Either way, it will be interesting to see how the next round of negotiations between ESPN and BYU fare considering BYU's ratings and viewership.