The idea of FOX Sports attempting to challenge the historic College GameDay this CFB season was met with mixed and doubtful reactions. Much like with FS1-to-ESPN, comparisons are not apples-to-apples as you must factor in several decades of viewership routine. But it's clear that, one year in, Big Noon Kickoff was a success.
Despite what one might hope, in 2019, alternatives don't challenge shows with history on their side in the first year. FS1 is not equal with ESPN, AEW isn't known like the WWE is, and Disney+ isn't yet used in conversations like Netflix is. It's about giving audiences another viable option to the big kid on the block. Which most fail to do -- but Big Noon succeeded.
The cast exceeded all reasonable expectations. All eyes came into the season on Urban Meyer, who was above average. He will never be the most likable or relatable personality, but he was exactly what is wanted from a former big-name coach. Meyer made the viewers smarter with insightful analysis and actually looked like he wanted to be on set.
Reggie Bush has been good on television since he started and grew into his role this season. It's the same case with fellow USC alum Matt Leinart. Brady Quinn was the show's top member in this first year, always being a few steps ahead of the rest of the cast. As a host, Rob Stone was into the content and left little-to-no doubt that FOX made the correct choice in selecting him. Most importantly, the desk fit together instantly.
There were areas, however, where Big Noon Kickoff struggled compared to what ESPN offers with GameDay. Much of that is tradition, but there is no denying the atmospheres were night-and-day. The best fan bases come from the college football scene and being live on campus is irreplaceable. The energy, thrill, feel, and noise of a college football pregame show on the road is far superior to that of a Los Angeles studio. Going forward, if FOX elects to keep the show in the studio, it should be taken on the road far more often.
Storytelling and features were another area that FOX lacked. The passion and history behind not only college football players and their families, but also the fans, continue to be one of the sport's (and ESPN's) most impactful elements. It adds to the love of the game and why there remains a section of the population that prefers football on the collegiate level. The features of ESPN's college football coverage often became topics of discussion the morning of the games this season.
The features, notably by Jen Lada, received widespread acclaim around the industry. This type of content is not found anywhere else in the business. This season, Lada's features on Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos' family tragedies, and the story behind the singed football from Herschel Walker and Danny Wuerffel in a charity auction were stories that spread beyond traditional sports programming praise. Reports and interviews along those lines should be incorporated into Big Noon Kickoff's coverage next season.
The ratings for the battle on Saturday mornings didn't get the attention some anticipated for most of the season after Big Noon Kickoff debuted with 838,000 viewers to College GameDay's 1,768,000. However, as most now know, that drastically changed in the aftermath of Week 14. It became an all-out PR war between FOX and ESPN on which show won between 11 a.m. and kickoff. The people can decide who won after reading this thread from Austin Karp breaking it down. Yet, the fact that it was this close only one year in was a win for FOX. Who won the ratings head-to-head that week can be disputed until next season, but in the bigger picture, it was a win for FOX. Yes, FOX airs on broadcast as opposed to cable like ESPN, but again, GameDay has essentially become a religion for most fans on Saturday mornings. Thus, ratings being that close leading into a marque week stands out.
What these shows will look like next season remains to be seen. According to industry sources, FOX is thrilled with the first year. But they could be losing a key component in Meyer. Meyer's name has been rumored all year long for a return to coaching. Most recently, as an option for the Dallas Cowboys. If Meyer departs, FOX will have a significant hole to fill. Pat McAfee became a featured part of GameDay this season, which should be expected to continue into next season.
Big Noon Kickoff didn't beat GameDay in the ratings or in the discussion this year. And it was unreasonable to expect otherwise. It did, however, make strides all year long and proved to be a viable alternative. Which is more than many could have believed when the idea was announced, making the show undeniably a success for FOX in its first year.