This is the second in a three-day series focused on the Mid-American Conference’s midweek football games and the impact it has on Northern Illinois’ football program.
Last season, the Mid-American Conference started selling T-shirts with the phrase “GET SOME MACtion” on its website. The T-shirts came about because of a phrase commonly seen during the conference’s midweek football broadcasts.
On a typical Tuesday or Wednesday evening in November, college football fans will see #MACtion fly across their Twitter feed. Spencer Hall, the editor of the college football blog “Every Day Should Be Saturday,” popularized the term.
Jeremy Guy, the MAC’s director of communications, said the league has given away shirts on conference campuses, and sold them at last year’s football conference title game at Ford Field in Detroit.
“I think it came about because the last few years a lot of our games have been quite exciting – high scoring, just a lot of action,” Guy said. “Combine the two words and there you have it. I think it’s really taken off because the games have continued to be that way.”
Midweek games and the MAC go hand in hand. And for a non-automatic qualifier conference such as the MAC, the only way to get primetime exposure is to play at nontraditional times such as Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
The way the league’s schedule is set up, the MAC has its conference title race play out on national TV, a perfect opportunity to showcase “MACtion.”
“The MAC owns midweek football,” said Tom Valdisseri, the executive vice president of KemperLesnik, a sports event marketing and public relations firm based in the Chicago area. “From a conference perspective, it’s raised the bar on awareness and familiarity throughout the country, as well as the schools who play.”
KEY MATCHUPS ON ESPN
Toledo, Ball State, Ohio, NIU and Bowling Green were key players in the race to the MAC Championship Game in Detroit last year, and all were featured during the late-season midweek slots in 2012. The midweek games averaged roughly 470,000 viewers, according to Nielsen. A Wednesday night matchup of Bowling Green and Ohio was the highest-rated midweek game with 719,000 viewers.
NIU’s lone midweek contest of the year, a Wednesday night game against Toledo at Huskie Stadium, drew 557,000 viewers.
The MAC’s TV deal earns the league $1 million a season, which is split among the conference’s teams. The league is in the fifth year of an eight-year deal, but the conference is renegotiating the deal with ESPN, hoping to rewrite the final three years and add more, a source familiar with the situation told the Daily Chronicle.
MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher didn’t have a timeframe on a new deal, but said he has been more than pleased with the TV ratings.
“Our numbers are very comparable to anything else they put up there or other people they put in those time slots,” he said. “And again, I think a lot of it depends on the quality of the game that’s played. That’s the challenge of picking games in February that are going to be played in November.”
The MAC’s division title races will be in the spotlight again this year. NIU’s game against Ball State on Wednesday could decide who wins the MAC West Division and will be pivotal in the Huskies’ effort to return to a BCS bowl game.
Akron, Eastern Michigan and UMass are the only schools not to be featured in November midweek games this season.
“It’s nice to have your conference races play out on national television the month of November. And we own Tuesday and Wednesday nights in the month of November,” said Bob Gennarelli, the senior associate commissioner of the MAC who oversees television and scheduling. “You’re the only college football on, so that night and the next day all the college football highlights on SportsCenter are MAC.”
Benefits beyond football
The drawbacks of Tuesday and Wednesday night football are obvious. It’s harder for fans to get to the stadium when most don’t get off work until 5 p.m. Students have class and homework obligations and the weather is colder.
But the trade-offs have seemed to be well worth the exposure.
Each game on ESPN provides commercial slots for both participating institutions on the broadcast. According to Brad Adgate, research director at Horizon Media, these spots usually cost $3,500.
Beyond the pure monetary value of TV ads, Adgate says there are many other positive attributes that benefit the university beyond its football team.
“It helps in recruiting, it helps with the alumni, it helps with the overall sports program,” Adgate said. “You’re going to apply to a school you’ve heard of, rather than one you haven’t heard of. There’s a recognition factor that helps in elevating the prestige of the school and putting it on the radar of a high school student. There’s a lot of different positives that can result from being on ESPN.”
In a perfect world, there would be more opportunities on Saturdays, but this is the window the MAC has right now.
“Any time you can put your team out there in the national exposure, it separates from other conferences,” first-year NIU athletic director Sean Frazier said. “The fact that we have a relationship with ESPN, the fact that we have a relationship with college football gives us that platform. I think that’s a wonderful thing.
“And it’s something you need for recruiting and exposure. It’s a great thing for the conference.”