BOISE — Fans of the Boise State football team are getting used to staying up late these days.
The Broncos visit San Diego State in a key Mountain West matchup Saturday that doesn’t start until 8:30 p.m. MST on CBS Sports Network. It’s the second consecutive Boise State game and fourth this season that will start after 8 p.m. in Boise.
Next week’s regular season finale vs. New Mexico at Bronco Stadium won’t start until at least 8:15 p.m. on ESPN2, meaning the final three regular season games and five of the Broncos’ 12 regular season games will have kicked off after 8 p.m.
But while the extra TV revenue and exposure is great for Boise State, the late starts have taken a toll on the attendance at Bronco Stadium — especially in the second halves.
Boise State got a $500,000 bonus for last week’s 48-7 victory over Wyoming that didn’t kick off until 8:21 p.m. on ESPN2. And they have another $500,000 payment coming to them for next week’s 8:15 p.m. start on ESPN2 vs. New Mexico.
But does the $1 million payout for the two late starts make up for unhappy fans and the declining attendance? Boise State’s not so sure.
“That’s something that I think we’ve got to take a look at as a conference,” Boise State athletic director Mark Coyle said. “You’ve heard the Pac 12, some of those people have talked about the late starts and how that’s had an impact on attendance, and I think sometimes these decisions are made with unintended consequences
“I think that’s something we need to talk about as a league — are we comfortable with these start times and do the positives outweigh the negatives? I think if you talk to any athletic director across the country, they want full stadiums, they want fans there, that’s part of the collegiate experience. So I think we have to have those conversations after the season.”
The Broncos have already played two home games that started after 8:15 p.m. — a 60-7 win over Southern Miss on Sept. 28 on ESPNU and last week’s win over Wyoming — and both saw significantly smaller crowds in the second half.
An announced crowd of 35,356 saw the win over Southern Miss but a large majority of those fans left at halftime and didn’t return. Boise State’s 30-7 lead at the break likely didn’t help things in a game that didn’t end until 11:34 p.m.
A crowd of 33,992 fans witnessed the blowout of Wyoming last week, but the crowd again got significantly smaller as the night got later and the score got more out of hand. The game didn’t end until 11:38 p.m.
“I can’t tell you how much we appreciate the crowd showing up on a cold night and staying late,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. “Those people that stayed until the very end, 11:20 or whatever it was — I checked my watch — hey, my hat’s off to you. It totally helped.”
The rights to Boise State’s home games are owned by ESPN as part of a joint agreement between the school, the Mountain West Conference and the network. ESPN assigns the game time and television channel to Boise State without any input or approval from the school.
The Broncos didn’t pick the 8:15 start times, but they certainly enjoy the benefits that come along with it. Boise State receives a $300,000 payment for being on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC and an additional $200,000 if the game is on a Saturday. That equals the $500,000 that the Broncos will receive for their final two home games.
Next week’s game against New Mexico could have been slated for ESPNU or ESPN3 and start earlier in the day, but the Broncos wouldn’t have gotten any additional money. The decision to put the game on ESPN2 meant an additional $500,000 for the program — but another less-than-ideal start time.
“We were surprised when this game got picked up for ESPN2,” Coyle said.
It’s the balance Boise State currently must weigh. The program was built by playing on odd nights of the week and at crazy times to do whatever they could to get national TV exposure. But the fans that fill Bronco Stadium, and in particular the season ticket holders, are the ones the school doesn’t want to upset and lose.
Despite likely coming out on top with the $1.6 million guarantee in TV bonus money (they also received $300,000 payments for games against Fresno State and Air Force), the Broncos are focused on figuring out a way to increase season ticket sales next season and please those unhappy with the late starts.
“Obviously, the TV money is exciting, and that’s a big part of what we’re doing,” Coyle said. “But as I said before, we never want to lose sight of our season ticket holders, and that’s going to be a big priority for us as we move forward.”
Saturday’s 8:30 p.m. start against San Diego State doesn’t come with a specific television bonus, but all of the Mountain West schools receive an additional cut of the leftover bonus money at the end of the season.
Petersen has repeatedly said that he’d prefer to play every game at 1 p.m. if he could set the schedule, but he also realizes the reward and added television exposure and recruiting benefits that come with playing on the ESPN family of networks later in the day.
When asked about the New Mexico game starting at 8:15 p.m., Petersen said only, “We’re glad to be on TV.”
And the Broncos may not be done with late starts just yet. Should they reach the Mountain West championship on Dec. 7, that game would start at 8 p.m. on CBS.