Recently, the University of Idaho submitted a presentation making its case for continued membership in the Sun Belt. I perused the 19-page deck a learned a few things, like Idaho is a "Doctoral Higher Learning" university conducting $100M in research (nice) and that it considers its brand of football "exciting and high scoring" (debatable).
Idaho also compiled a few statistics measuring the Vandals against its Sun Belt brethren, including a metric that caught my attention: ESPN3 Viewership. Having no official network deal to
pimp broadcast the conference, Sun Belt fans rely on ESPN3 heavily during football season. Waiting patiently on the couch, surrounded by chips and beer, and waiting for Brock Bowling to appear on our screens is practically a Sun Belt tradition.
Apparently, it is a tradition Arkansas State Red Wolves fans have embraced. According to the University of Idaho (they're a research university, so we can trust their research), Red Wolves games garner a whopping 43% more viewership than the second-most viewed program, Georgia Southern.
You could probably conjure a number of reasons for the sizable disparity between Arkansas State's ESPN3 numbers and the totals posted by its peers. (I'm not smart enough to think of any.) So I also gathered more data. Mid-week games are a Sun Belt staple, and ESPN channels (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU) broadcasted seven Tuesday/Thursday SBC games in 2015. Once again, Arkansas State appears to be driving viewership.
|A-State vs. ULL||351K|
|A-State vs. USA||287K|
|A-State vs. App||200K|
|GS vs. App||190K|
|TXST vs. GS||187K|
|ULL vs. USA||160K|
|ULM vs. TXST||84K|
Of course, winning helps the numbers. But the ultimate measure of fan appeal is the number of people willing to surrender their couches to metal bleachers. Once again, the Red Wolves lead the conference in attendance, putting buts in seats as well as gluing eyes to screens.
|New Mexico St.||17,486|
Despite fierce challenges from rising contenders, Arkansas State remains the Celebrity of the Sun Belt. The fan base is growing, as is its national reputation. What's left to be seen is if the Red Wolves can maintain this momentum, or will a new fan base rise to the surface.