Google Insights: Villanova football wouldn't deliver Philadelphia

One point of contention about Villanova's campaign for football membership in the Big East is the argument that Villanova football brings the Philadelphia market in play for the Big East. Is there any way of putting that claim to the test? A possible answer could be looking at Google search volume data.

Google searches probably skew young, but that's actually a point in its favor when anticipating future trends. Increasing research has shown that Google searches have a lot of predictive value. A cookie to the first person who correlates a team's record with something interesting.

If Google search volume is any indication, Villanova is the biggest hoops draw in the Philadelphia region, attracting twice as much interest as Temple. For football? Not so much. Just as Villanova basketball is about twice as popular as Temple basketball, Temple football is close to twice as popular as Villanova football. Both are dwarfed by Penn State football. Notre Dame football, not pictured in the above graph, still generates more searches than Temple football and Villanova football combined. Rutgers football generates nearly three times as many searches in the Philadelphia market as Villanova football, and is almost as popular as Villanova basketball in the region. Southern New Jersey is an underrated part of the Philadelphia market. Even though Northern and central New Jersey are far more interested in RU football than southern New Jersey, the team is actually relatively more popular in the Philadelphia market compared to New York owing to the sheer size of the latter.

That is not to say that they both don't have opportunities to grow. Would Temple basketball be more popular than Villanova if they traded conferences now, or decades ago? What about a similar role reversal in basketball? Temple at least has a much larger alumni and student base to fall back on. From the Big East's perspective, neither prospective Philadelphia football program is likely to gain more than a minor foothold in that market though. That would not be enough to justify paying either a tenth of the Big East's football revenue, and certainly cannot warrant Villanova's request for the league to subsidize expanding PPL Park (which would still be woefully inadequate at 30,000 seats.) This is what sober football minds have been saying for months. The Big East already struggles for respect in football. One cannot look at the idea and not see ulterior motives at work.

As a basis of comparison, by the same metric Rutgers football is significantly more popular than Notre Dame football and Penn State football in the New York City metro area (which includes northern and central New Jersey, NYC, Long Island, southwest Connecticut, and the Hudson Valley.) Neither program is going to deliver their respective markets in full, with Villanova basketball slightly bigger in Philadelphia than Rutgers football is in New York. The latter market is far bigger though, and far less receptive to college sports. Rutgers football is far and away the most popular college sports team in a market with a lot of hypothetical television viewers but a low per-capita interest in college sports. All Villanova sports take a back seat to Penn State football in a market that's more receptive to college sports than New York, but smaller overall and still relatively uninterested.

Any television calculus would not exactly work this way, as evidenced by the myriad debate over hypothetical Big Ten expansion scenarios last year. Any potential expansion candidate would not necessarily need to "deliver" a market; they would instead need to both (a) add net value to a television package, and (b) add more net value than competing options. Hypothetically, 1% of the New York market could be more valuable than 30% of Nebraska, both in terms of raw population and socio-economic demographics. (To avoid confusion, please note that all of the Insight figures are normalized, and graphs are NOT directly comparable to each other in a way that would correspond to the above example..)

The challenge is then actually arriving at an equation that meets those two criteria and can quantifiably prove it, in terms of negotiating higher rights fees, and obtaining carriage agreements. What Villanova partisans need to understand is that opposition to their candidacy is solely grounded in these financial maters. The Rutgers athletic department needs more money, and all Big East athletic departments need more money. If their football team would be a net asset to the conference, then their perceived enemies like West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck and Rutgers athletic director/experienced television executive Tim Pernetti will support their candidacy. If it wouldn't be, then they won't. Case closed.

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