Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Friday night football is here to stay for BYU.
Last week BYU announced its October game against Boise State was moving to Friday night, the 25th. This immediately set off a wave of discussion and, in many cases, consternation at water coolers, message boards, on Twitter and in senior center gatherings across the state.
While a majority of fans likely had a ho-hum reaction to the news, a vocal minority has expressed concern at the Cougars' willingness to play weeknight games.
The announcement last week pushed the number of Friday games on the 2013 slate to three.
Many wonder why BYU and ESPN would be so dastardly as to broadcast games on a nontraditional day. And they express some legitimate concerns.
The most common refrain is the sacred nature of Saturday as Football Day. Fans enjoy the game-day atmosphere, which can be hours longer on Saturdays and may feel different on a weeknight. Long tailgates with on-site activities, family barbecues and friendly afternoon get-togethers of weekends are often sacrificed for a quick stop for pizza on the way home from work and a game alone on TV at home.
Fans are also concerned about their freezing extremities. This season BYU plays Friday night games on Sept. 27 (Middle Tennessee State), Oct. 4 (at Utah State) and Oct. 25 (the aforementioned game against the Broncos). Temperatures by 9 p.m. at those times of year have the potential to be chilly. There’s a large subset of BYU fans who attend games who prefer to be cozied up in bed watching "Dateline" at that time and temperature.
Some have concerns about or conflicts with local high school football. That sport grows in popularity in the Beehive State with every new autumn, and BYU fans with an interest in preps hate to see their night conflicting with the college gridiron.
Others who wish to attend a weeknight game complain it’s very difficult to make it when juggling work, kids and other responsibilities, and many fans who live on the fringes of the Wasatch Front have a difficult time making it to Provo and home on a weeknight.
The reason the BYU athletics administration is willing to play on Friday is simple: exposure.
It's the same reason the school chose independence over obsolescence in the Mountain West.
Fact is, weeknight games deliver the ratings.
Over the past two seasons, BYU played six games on a weeknight on ESPN or ESPN2. Those games drew an average of 1.8 million homes each. For comparison, that’s more than the 2011 games at Ole Miss and Texas each drew.
Weeknight BYU games in 2011-2012 delivered 80 percent more viewers than Saturday games. When you take out the games on ESPN2, the numbers are even higher.
And with more than 60,000 fans on average at LaVell Edwards Stadium for Thursday and Friday night home games the past two seasons, attendance is a nonfactor.
ESPN has repeatedly stated it is very pleased with the agreement with BYU, and it should be. BYU delivered average or above-average ratings for every weeknight game it has played in the past two seasons, something most conferences haven’t done.
In the case of Thursday night games, BYU’s ratings have been more than 20 percent higher than average ESPN/ESPN2 draws for that night.
The fan reaction
The weeknight games are here to stay, and Friday night is likely to remain a common TV home for BYU.
Regardless of the reasons, fan reactions will remain mixed. Here’s a sample of what fans have to say on the issue on Twitter:
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- High school boys basketball: TJ Haws' career...
- Utah basketball: Runnin' Utes come up... 73
- High school boys basketball: 5A/4A/1A... 57
- BYU basketball: Despite dearth of... 34
- Utah basketball: Runnin' Utes eager to... 29
- BYU basketball: Bottom seed LMU knocks... 26
- Krystkowiak asks Runnin' Utes to stay... 24
- Utah basketball: Regular-season finale... 24
- High school boys basketball: Lone Peak... 20