First, this is a sponsored post. Over the next two weeks, you will be seeing occasional posts on this and other SB Nation sites concerning the effect of technology on sports. Today's topic, as the headline suggests, is whether the Big Ten Network has had a positive effect on Indiana football.
This is the fourth season of the Big Ten Network. Since the beginning of the 2007 season, every IU football game, home and away, has been available for TV or computer-based viewing. The 2009 debacle at Virginia was available only on ESPN 360 (i.e., the Internet), but otherwise, every game has been on cable or broadcast television. It's easy to forget that this wasn't always the case. Before the advent of the BTN, IU's non-conference games were mostly untelevised, and even a decent number of Big Ten games were unavailable on TV. Now, any fan who chooses can watch the Hoosiers on a weekly basis. Given that IU has only five conference wins in the BTN era, perhaps the opportunity to step away occasionally would be better for my mental health. Nevertheless, the games are there, and since 2009, even the games that are on overflow channels are in high definition.
What brings this topic to mind is a recent back-and-forth with Lake the Posts, a Northwestern blog, about attendance (yes, there is a Big Ten school that envies IU's football attendance). IU, despite no post-2007 success on the field, has managed to improve attendance consistently. Last year's average attendance was over 40,000. This season's sold-out Michigan game represented IU's largest home crowd for an opponent other than Ohio State or Purdue since the 1992 Michigan game. There are any number of explanations. The north end zone project makes the stadium much more impressive and appealing than it was before. The marketing efforts--advertising, ticket promotions, Knothole Park, etc.--have made an impact. I don't know the answer, but I wonder if increased TV exposure isn't part of the reason for the modest but noticeable uptick in attendance. For many years, IU basketball enjoyed exposure that even other successful programs couldn't imagine. In the 1980s and 1990s, when many games went untelevised, IU basketball nearly always was on TV. Of course, it's a chicken-egg proposition--IU basketball was on TV so much because the team was popular and successful--but the excellent TV coverage certainly contributed to the size and intensity of the fan base. IU's football program isn't anywhere near the 1970s-1990s IU basketball program either competitively or in fan support. Still, perhaps the wide availability of IU football on TV is increasing the exposure of the program ans is helping to grow the fabase, even though the product on the field hasn't really improved.