It is no secret anymore that the newest round of conference expansion is not being driven by rivalries or tradition, but rather television sets. Conferences are expanding based on where they don't yet have people watching their football teams. How else can you explain the SEC taking a school look Missouri over, say, a school like Clemson? People are already watching SEC football in Spartanburg, they aren't watching SEC football in St. Louis or Kansas City.
One of the refrains I have heard constantly during the recent conference expansion is the question of which team can bring with it the New York media market, the #1 media market in the US. Living in the Tri- State area I constantly hear Rutgers, UConn, and Syracuse promising that they can bring with them that market. Statistically speaking, it seems Rutgers has the most fans living in that media market, much of that owing to Rutgers proximity to New York City. A recent study by the New York Times confirmed this stating that:
"The most popular team in New York, for instance, is Rutgers. They have about 600, 000 fans in New York City. That isn't bad, but it represents only about 20 percent of college football fans in New York... It also represents only about 3 percent of New York's overall population."
So, it seems Rutgers has the most fans in New York City. A conference hoping to secure the lion's share of that market would aim to bring Rutgers into the fold. However, I want to focus in on the 20 percent part of that quotation. Rutgers, although it ostensibly has the most fans in New York City, still only claims about 20% of the overall market. Notre Dame claims about 9.2% of that market, according to the Times study, and Penn State about 6.4% (Boston College rounds out the top 10 most watched teams with about 2.1% of the college football watching population). Although statistically Rutgers has the majority of the New York City market, I am not convinced that Rutgers, or any team for that matter, can really claim to bring with it the New York City market.
About two weeks ago I was at an outdoor beer garden in New York City. The televisions that were on were tuned to Tennessee- LSU and Texas- Oklahoma State. Among the patrons of the beer garden I spotted three Alabama supporters, two Texas supporters, and one each of LSU, Tennessee, Florida, Miami and Boston College. The bar that BC alums watch games at this year is across the street from a bar where Arkansas fans watch their games. Another BC bar on the Upper East Side was a popular spot for Ohio State fans to stop at on their way to and from their game watches up the block. The point I am trying to make here is that no one school can claim that it brings the entire New York media market with them.
New York is the largest media market in the country. A conference looking to expand into New York City would logically want to go after a school like Rutgers who can deliver television sets in New York. However, the fact is that there are about 2.9 million college football fans in New York. And all of those college football fans have varying allegiances to one school or another. While Rutgers may have the most number of people turning their televisions on to watch Rutgers football, there are still 2,300,000 people turning their televisions on to watch Penn State, Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State or Arkansas. No one school can claim that it has the New York market. New York is the last true melting pot in the United States. As such, it is not made up just of Scarlet Knights and Huskies, but also of Buckeyes, Wolverines, Longhorns, Trojans, Ducks, and Tar Heels. As they each strive to bring the New York market in, what conferences are failing to realize is that they already have it.