5 Things @TCUSchieffer: Future of Fans and (College) Football

In honor of the college football kickoff this week, we asked Associate Professor Dustin Hahn, Ph.D., to tell us five things about the impact of TV deals on conference shake-ups for sports fans. Hahn teaches in our Film, Television and Digital Media Department, where he studies fans, particularly sports fans. With the recent changes in the landscape of college sports, we asked Hahn to tell us what the impact might be on fans, including opportunities for colleges and fans in the future:

Associate Professor Dustin Hahn leans against a broadcasting console, facing the camera.

Dustin Hahn, associate professor of film, television and digital media  (Photo by Robert Carter)


#1: Fans are adaptable and resilient

Fans are used to being resilient and adaptable, he said. “There are levels of fanship, and some fans get more involved than others. While most fans are relatively resilient through major changes, some lower-level fans may struggle for a time adapting to watching their teams online. I think most fans who watch their teams on [over the air] broadcasts, cable or streaming are already somewhat used to having to do their homework in advance to figure out where and when they’ll be on.” He continued, “fans have long had to adapt to varying broadcast/cable/streaming schedules that I think they’re fairly resilient to these types of changes. Long term, fans would appreciate some stability and consistency (we’d all love to go to one place for all of team’s games), but competition among production and distribution partners will likely continue to make this difficult.”

#2: In the future, there may be a power imbalance between the college haves and have-nots

We asked Hahn about the opportunities for other conferences to enter TV deals in the future, “in short, I think fans are most concerned about prestige, power moving forward. There will be many haves and have-nots. As one door closes, others usually open. Conferences, at least ones well-managed, will continue to look to reposition themselves as best they can. They are most assuredly now putting in place contingency plans for teams who may leave and, similarly, considering revenue (primarily in the form of distribution rights) plans in the event changes need to be made or are forced upon them… While conferences will continue having these discussions about TV deals and new program additions, there’s little more than most fans or analysts can do than play the guessing game at this point.”

#3: Streaming is the future of sports watching

“Many viewers have relatively quickly adopted online streaming service options. They usually allow viewers to back out at any time and can often be more directly catered to consumer viewing interests, ultimately reducing ‘waste’ of channels one pays access for but doesn’t watch. Cable companies are adjusting, too, of course with online platform options of their own, so it’s a two-way street. … It seems very likely that cord cutting will increase in the years to come. Some will overpay for the convenience of having everything in one place, even if it means paying for much of what they’ll never watch. Other, more frugal fans will shop around and regularly reassess. But online streaming of sports programming is undoubtedly the future, whether fans can go to a singular source, pay for multiple platforms, or one day pay a la carte for game viewing.”

#4: College athletics is increasingly less ‘amateur’

College football has leveled up, according to Hahn. “The competition to gain media rights is a large reason why. Is it good? Is it bad? It likely depends on your perspective …. But more money will likely flow to bigger programs and larger conferences and those who find themselves on the outside looking in will miss out. With [Name/Image/Likeness] and transfer portals and conference realignments and media rights negotiations, long gone are the days when students came to a university and went out to compete on behalf of it afterward. This is undoubtedly a good thing for some, particularly the upper echelon athletes with professional sports career aspirations. Still, with ballooning budgets and unending arms races for athletics programs across the nation, a bust is possible. Or, perhaps, a rebirth of amateurism of old at lower levels of NCAA athletics (if the NCAA can maintain its control long term) that offers something of what college competition used to be. Time will tell. But, ultimately, diverse options in terms of sports, universities, conferences, leagues, and platforms on which to view them all is probably a good thing for fans of all types across the nation.”

#5: Impact on viewing expands beyond football

“In my more pessimistic moments, I have concerns that many sports and leagues will lose fans and access with the gap between the haves and have-nots growing too great. Not just in power conferences but within programs too…For smaller programs or less popular sports, that popularity is likely to further decline at least in relation to more popular sports gaining national attention.

“In my more optimistic moments, I consider however that online streaming options present opportunities for growth and viewing, especially in an ‘a la carte’ sports viewing world where one-day consumption of these smaller, more niche sports may be possible. Still, there are barriers to entry to broadcast or stream any sport. Some are more conducive to streaming than others.”

For media inquiries, learn more about Dustin Hahn, Ph.D., on his TCU Expert File profile.