Who attracts more TV sets in football and basketball, BYU or Utah?
Which brand is the one that a majority of eyeballs in this market follow on the tube?
These are questions often debated and frequently guessed at, as many people suppose they know the answer.
It is assumed that the Utah Jazz dominate the local market sports brand.
I've spoken to a few TV eggheads who confirm that. BYU has always drawn numbers, challenging the Jazz locally, but research shows Utah has closed the gap in TV ratings, especially during this decade after Urban Meyer came along and the Utes started making BCS bowl appearances.
It is difficult to say how BYU and Utah stack up to a national audience because their games are primarily on the league's network, The mtn., which is available nationwide, but not on all basic cable and satellite packages.
This network often requires an upgrade to a higher-priced TV service but is available on local cable and DirecTV in Utah.
It would be fun to pin this down on a national ratings race if both Utah and BYU played a regular diet of games on ESPN, which most cable and dish subscribers can see. But with the help of The mtn., we can peek at the niche Utah and BYU have carved out in the Salt Lake City market.
If you go by the latest ESPN appearances, the 2009-10 bowl games, Utah's 2.4 rating in the Poinsettia Bowl against California was better than BYU's in the Las Vegas Bowl (2.2) against Oregon State, although the Poinsettia's rating was down 25 percent from the previous year.
In the '90s, BYU regularly appeared on ESPN and, according to associate athletic director Duff Tittle, the Cougars had five of the top 10 highest-rated football telecasts in ESPN history at that time.
Because this is a complicated issue, I asked Hayne Ellis of The mtn. to help research some numbers for the past two seasons, and I credit his research for some engaging data.
The mtn. is the best source I know to provide a true look at the TV trends of the Utes and Cougars in the realm they play inside the Utah market.
First, here are some definitions:
A "rating" is the estimated percentage of the universe of TV households (or other specified group) tuned to a program in the average minute. Ratings are expressed as a percent.
A "share" is the percent of households (or persons) using television who are tuned to a specific program, station or network in a specific area at a specific time.
Here's the breakdown of the two major sports and how BYU and Utah fared with TV audiences the past two seasons.
In 2008 and 2009 (using those two years so that satellite can be included), BYU and Utah averaged just more than a one rating point difference, with BYU seeing more viewership on average.
In 2008 and 2009, the highest average rated football game for both teams was the BYU/Utah game — a 12.8 in 2009 and a 10.0 in 2008.
Both BYU and Utah saw increased viewership for football in 2009 over the prior year, with both gaining an average of just more than one rating point (10,000 households).
A good comparison may be this past season when both BYU and Utah played Utah State: BYU vs. Utah State drew a 7.5 average rating while Utah vs. Utah State was a 6.9 average.
Football sees better ratings than basketball for both institutions; there is about a four rating point difference over the course of the respective seasons.
BYU viewership increased in 2009-10 over 2008-09 by nearly one rating point, while Utah viewership slightly declined. This is not surprising, as a common element among sports programming is ratings rise and fall based on team performance.
Similar to football, there was an average of one rating point difference between BYU and Utah for basketball in 2008-09, with BYU seeing more viewership on average.
In 2009-10, that margin increased, with BYU enjoying more success than Utah in basketball.
In 2009-10, the largest average viewership for a single game for both teams came at the MWC Tournament in Las Vegas — BYU drew a 4.8 rating, with Utah collecting a 2.8.
In 2008-09, the BYU/Utah game on The mtn. had an average rating of 4.5 — outstanding for basketball — and was each team's highest TV draw on The mtn. that season.
Ellis provided some footnotes to the research.
1. These figures do not include HD viewership of games televised on The mtn. for football and basketball (the MWC Tournament).
2. Data does not include potential Dish Network households, but Dish Network households are factored into the ratings.
3. Figures do not include any simulcasts with CBS C.
Ellis said he does not have access to VERSUS and CBS C figures.
"But even if I did, I am not in the position to provide another network's ratings. I would imagine they trend the same way, but can't state that with certainty," he said.
The bottom line?
BYU has enjoyed a tremendous TV presence in the area and has attracted national audiences with impressive numbers, which is a big reason ESPN saw to it BYU played Oklahoma last September in Dallas.
I'd wager that a big chunk of both BYU and Utah fans tune in to watch both teams when possible. They share some of the same eyeball numbers.
But Utah's numbers have significantly increased with the success of its football program. And when the twain shall meet, it is the biggest show the league's network is capable of producing.