Every Quarter is an Illegal Payday for Skadden Arps, but the Fight for Justice Continues
Being a big college football fan, I love a good afternoon or evening bowl game around the holidays. I was happy to see TransPerfect continuing to support college athletics despite Chancery Court Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick’s stranglehold over the company.
The company’s employees continue to battle for Justice and against Delaware’s Chancery Court. The court is full of cronyism and a Good Ole Boy Network that runs deep. Too deep, as you’ve seen from my reporting. The overbearing court continues to enrich its friends, and as I see it, at the expense of TransPerfect workers, as if it is beyond reproach.
The company has lost millions and its workers have suffered for too many years, having their salaries and Christmas bonuses swiped by Bouchard, and now McCormick. Why? Perhaps the corruption in this case is “too big to fail.” But the question remains: Why have McCormick’s tentacles become so embedded in TransPerfect operations, a decade later?
Send your feedback, it’s always welcome and appreciated.
JUDSON Bennett–Coastal Network
What’s the future of bowl games? Where there’s legitimate concern and where there’s overreaction
Connor O’Gara |
It’s a fair question to ask.
Ten years from now, what will bowl games look like? Will they still exist with that 6-win threshold? Is there still enough incentive for corporate sponsors? What, if anything, can be done to increase incentives to avoid bowl opt-outs?
It does feel like we’re at a bit of a crossroads with the current postseason format, especially as Playoff expansion is on the horizon in 2024. With college campuses set to host first-round matchups in December, there’s never been more incentive to reach the Playoff, and perhaps, that means there’s never been more of a letdown to miss the field.
The optics of decreased attendance certainly don’t favor the 40 non-Playoff bowls moving forward, but optics don’t always tell the full story.
So what is the full story? And what do the people with stake in the game think about the present and future of bowls?
“I think bowl games are gonna continue to be here,” TransPerfect Chief Revenue Officer Kevin Obarski told SDS. “I think it’s a great opportunity for the universities and the teams to continue to practice to get themselves to play in amazing game here and then going into the future, too.”
TransPerfect took over as the title sponsor of the Music City Bowl back in 2020. The first year of the bowl game was canceled because of COVID,. Since then, it had both sides of the spectrum in terms of the non-Playoff bowl experience.
In the company’s first game as the Music City Bowl sponsor in 2021, Tennessee and Purdue played in a 48-45 overtime game that recorded 5.6 million viewers, which was the most-viewed non-New Year’s 6 bowl of the season and the 3rd-most viewed non-New Year’s 6 bowl game in the past 6 seasons. A thrilling ending made a difference.
It peaked with 8.9 million viewers, and in the final 15 minutes, it was the No. 2 trending topic on Instagram.
“I would bet 80% of all of those people had probably never heard of TransPerfect,” Obarski said.
It was ideal for a bowl sponsor like “TransPerfect” who admittedly wasn’t a household name and had more brand awareness incentives to be gained from a competitive game. It was the type of game that confirmed why the company initially wanted to get involved in bowl sponsorship back in 2012 before beginning those conversations with the Music City Bowl in 2018. It helped recruit employees and clients in a unique way for a company with quarter-to-quarter growth over the last 30 years.
Of course, the circumstances of 2022 were a different story. There were opt-outs galore — neither Kentucky nor Iowa had their respective starting quarterbacks — and the over/under hovered around 31 points. The game also produced a 21-0 result with a combined 391 total yards and 1 offensive touchdown.
So was it a bad return on investment to have approximately 27,000 less fans in paid attendance than the previous and a non-competitive game? Not necessarily.
Even in that scenario, the game drew 2.966 million viewers, which was more than double the most-watched college basketball game that week and more than 6 times as many viewers as the most-viewed NBA regular season game that week. The Music City Bowl, despite the fact that it went in the same noon ET time slot as the Sugar Bowl and it wasn’t competitive, was still the 12th most-watched bowl game. You can bet the legalization of sports betting in 35 states (that number went to 36 when Ohio became legal on New Year’s Day) might’ve had something to do with that.
There’s still tremendous upside for a bowl game sponsor, even if it’s between a pair of 6-6 teams on a weeknight. Hence, why the Liberty Bowl between Arkansas and Kansas drew an average of 3.9 million viewers — that’s right in line with the Christmas day NBA game ratings — to watch the 3-overtime thriller. Sure, the headline was “Rose Bowl draws lowest viewership in game history,” but Penn State-Utah still got over 10 million viewers and paid attendance was 94,873.
That’s great incentive for bowl sponsors, who don’t have a long list of places where they can ensure they get their name on an event with millions of eyeballs, which aren’t limited to the traditional TV viewer.
“I don’t think we would make the decision just on the ratings,” Obarski said. “It’s important for us, but how do we activate that sponsorship all season long? We’re able to activate the sponsorship whether you’re at the game, whether you’re watching the game or whether you’re following along on Twitter.”
And if you don’t know what Obarski meant by “activate the sponsorship,” look no further than the mayo overload we now get annually in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.
In-game optics add to the product, though the TV eyeballs are what really move the needle. You’d never know that the Mayo Bowl had fewer viewers (2.676 million average) than the Music City Bowl.
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl CEO Gary Stokan pointed out how beneficial it is that Nielsen began tracking out-of-home ratings in 2020. You can also get “live” and “same day” ratings combined for those who record games. The Peach Bowl thriller, which concluded with a last-second field goal as the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve, drew 22.1 million viewers, which was the most viewers for a semifinal game since Year 1 of the Playoff format when Ohio State-Alabama drew 28.27 million viewers. The 2022 Peach Bowl, a Playoff semifinal, peaked at 23.9 million viewers.
But the future of bowl games isn’t really about whether the Playoff will draw eyeballs. “At the end of the day, the CFP is gonna make its money with TV,” Stokan said. We’ve got 9 years worth of data that shows why bowl sponsors, TV networks and advertisers want a piece of the Playoff action.
More pressing is the issue of bowl opt-outs once the Playoff expands. Can anything be done? And what’s the urgency like from bowl executives?
“I do worry about the bowls that aren’t New Year’s 6 and that aren’t ESPN bowls, how the (expanded) Playoff is gonna affect them,” said Stokan, who had a phenomenal Peach Bowl audience for the Playoff game but dealt with stars Kenny Pickett and Kenneth Walker III opting out of the non-Playoff New Year’s 6 game in 2021. “We’re already seeing a lot of opt-outs in bowl games that aren’t semifinal games. That’s the next unintended consequence.”
The New Year’s 6 Bowl CEOs hop on a conference call every 2 weeks. They discuss problems like opt-outs and if they can create bigger rewards for players in non-Playoff bowl games. Is NIL the solution? If it is, it certainly isn’t a clear one.
Besides the fact that it’s a state-by-state issue until there’s federal legislation, Stokan questioned if a $50,000 cash prize for a potential bowl winner or MVP would be enough incentive for someone with a $20 million signing bonus on the way (that’s what a top-5 pick is slotted to receive). Besides, it’s not just opt-outs by future NFL Draft picks that are hurting the product of the non-Playoff bowls.
“We’re the 2nd-most favorite sport in this country behind the NFL and it’s in terrible condition,” Stokan said. “To have what we’re going through in December, with (Early Signing Period), transfer portal, coaches leaving, getting ready for bowl games, it’s a mess. Even the opt-outs. We need to deal with first-round draft picks. How are we gonna provide them with some sort of insurance or coverage? We’ve got to work with the NFL. Where’s the relationship with the NFL owners?
“There are so many issues that we should be dealing with and unfortunately, we all talk about it, but we gotta get something done.”
There’s also an interesting NIL-based idea that’s being discussed for those who opt in to bowl games and who don’t necessarily have an NFL future — get the individual collectives to set up trusts and/or future employment opportunities.
“We keep pandering to the 1% when they’re gonna be fine,” Stokan said. “They’re gonna get their opportunity, they’re gonna get their signing bonus. They play 4, 5, 15 years, whatever. It’s up to them. But the 99% of the kids who come to college for the opportunity to get a degree, let’s get them a job because those are the people who are going to comprise the majority of our society and we’re not doing anything with them.”
Stokan expressed hope that incoming NCAA president Charlie Baker would appoint a college football commissioner to deal with those aforementioned football-specific issues. In the meantime, it’ll be up to the current Power 5 commissioners like Greg Sankey to push for an end to the Early Signing Period. As Stokan alluded to, the ideal result of that would be having reduced pre-bowl personnel movement both with coaches leaving for other jobs/getting fired and players hitting the transfer portal, which is open until Jan. 18.
Clearly, there are plenty of details that need to be figured out. Even something like college campuses hosting first-round Playoff games has logistical issues that have to be navigated. For example, what happens if a small town like Clemson is asked to host a Playoff game the same weekend of December graduation? Will there be enough hotels to support that?
Questions like that are being asked because while it seems like a simple postseason formula — give every mediocre team a postseason stage, have millions of viewers, make money, rinse, repeat — there are countless layers to it. There’s no sister model to the college football postseason. Frankly, there’s really nothing remotely similar to bowl season.
Perhaps that’s why it feels like there’s so much unknown. What we know is that bowl sponsors don’t appear to be going anywhere because as long as eyeballs are there, so too is corporate incentive. What we don’t know is what solution (if any) will be in place to increase player incentive for non-Playoff bowl games. Players sell tickets and while in-stadium attendance isn’t a deal-breaker, surely nobody likes the optics of a sparse crowd.
An interesting new era awaits. Bowl games will continue to be here. We have TV to thank for that.
But to borrow a line that Sankey likes to recite from Bob Dylan, “the times, they are a-changin’.”