Ready for Some Saturday Night Football?

ABC Commits to Weekly College Football Games

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Yet another network is building an entire night of programming around football. This time, it's ABC and the college game.
ABC will highlight teams that have a national following, such as Notre Dame and the University of Southern California.
ABC will highlight teams that have a national following, such as Notre Dame and the University of Southern California. Credit: AP

The Walt Disney Co. network announced this morning at its upfront presentation the first prime-time college football series on broadcast TV. "ABC Saturday Night College Football" will kick off Sept. 2 with a game between Notre Dame and Georgia Tech, and will continue for 12 weeks.

NBC regained broadcast rights to the National Football League and in September will turn Sunday evenings into a prime-time gridiron fest, including a one-hour "Football Night in America" pre-game show followed by an NFL game.

The lure of sports
Sunday is the most-watched night of TV; Saturday is one of the least. Yet sports continue to be a major draw for advertisers and, thus, a network favorite. According to Nielsen Media Research, the top 25 sports advertisers alone spent more than $2.3 billion in 2005 on sports-related programming, including games, news and anthologies.

"College football has extremely devoted fans," said Stephen McPherson, president, ABC Entertainment, "and we look forward to bringing the excitement of the game to them on Saturday nights this fall."

Though some weeks will feature split national coverage, as ABC does on its Saturday afternoon college telecasts, the network is highlighting some of the top programs that have a national following. Notre Dame, for instance, will appear a minimum of three times, as will the University of Southern California, which has been in the national championship game in each of the last three seasons, winning twice. Ohio State and Michigan are also scheduled for at least two appearances.

Bonding with sibling ESPN
In some cases, Disney will also try to marry ABC's coverage with that of sibling network ESPN, which televises multiple games on Saturday afternoons and evenings. ESPN also has College GameDay, its wildly successful analysis/highlight show that originates from the campus site of whatever is determined to be that week's big game. (Football continues to bind the two networks: ESPN is paying a whopping $1.1 billion a year for the "Monday Night Football" franchise of NFL games that was on ABC.)

College GameDay will originate from the site of ABC's first two prime-time telecasts: Atlanta on Sept. 2, when Notre Dame plays at Georgia Tech, and Austin, Texas, on Sept. 9 when Ohio State meets Texas. ABC's series does not include games on Oct. 21 or 28, which would coincide with News Corp.'s Fox's telecasts of Games 1 and 7, respectively, of baseball's World Series.

"Based on the success of prime-time games on ABC in past years, creating ABC Saturday Night College Football was the next logical step," said John Skipper, exec VP-content, ESPN. "Thanks to the cooperation of the conferences and their member institutions, the prime-time game will complement ESPN and ESPN2's existing Saturday night games while providing marquee matchups from this great sport."
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