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2024 trip to Ireland will be a continuation of the Seminoles long barnstorming tradition

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The recent announcement that Florida State will open the 2024 season vs Georgia Tech in Ireland has garnered some intense reactions from FSU fans; ranging from excitement at a once in a lifetime opportunity for fans and the program to frustration that a game originally scheduled to be played in FSU’s largest alumni base outside of Florida is now getting moved half a world away. On the surface this feels like yet another early season neutral site game that has clogged FSU’s schedules for the last decade. Rather, this is a part of a strategy FSU has employed since the earliest days of the Bobby Bowden era and Michael Alford has been bringing back to prominence.

Florida State thought outside the box on ways to showcase itself going back to the earliest days of the Bobby Bowden era. During the late 70s and early 80s FSU famously employed a barnstorming “anytime, anywhere” scheduling philosophy which its zenith during the 1981 gauntlet that saw FSU play four straight road games at #17 Nebraska, #7 Ohio State, Notre Dame, and #3 Pitt. While the yearly schedules were daunting it provided plenty of opportunities to play marquee opponents and by extension get on television during an era where just getting on TV was a big deal. The approach provided major dividends when college football TV broadcasts became more commonplace in the late 80s and 90s. FSU was already seen as a marquee TV draw allowing it to pick between going to the SEC or ACC in the early 90s instead of ending up in the Big East or Conference USA like the majority of other former independent schools.

Fast forward to the mid-2000s and Florida State would again think outside the box by moving their annual showdown with the Miami Hurricanes to Labor Day night. The move was controversial at the time but ended up being a success with 2006 the game becoming the most watched college football game in ESPN’s history up to that point.

Rather than continuing to find innovative ways to showcase the brand, FSU largely followed the pack during the Jimbo Fisher and Willie Taggart era by moving away from on campus “home and home” non-conference series to playing one off games at neutral sites. 2023 will mark the fifth time in the last ten years FSU plays an early non-conference game at a neutral site. In addition, the 2019 Boise State game was meant to be played in Jacksonville before a hurricane forced the game to be moved back to Tallahassee and the Noles were scheduled to open the 2020 season vs. West Virginia in Atlanta before the pandemic forced wholesale schedule changes.

The logic behind the glut of neutral site games was sound. The lucrative payouts were an easy way to help with FSU’s ever present revenue shortfalls from the ACC’s TV deal. Tallahassee is notoriously difficult to get to and most of the games were scheduled in alumni hot spots like Orlando, Jacksonville, and Atlanta. All of that being said, the games themselves were largely forgettable and got lost in the shuffle of other high profile games happening in the same sterile NFL environments.

Since becoming Florida State’s athletic director Michael Alford has stressed FSU’s brand above all else when discussing FSU’s place in the college football world. Whether it has been tweets about how FSU has delivered the highest ratings in the ACC to how FSU is one of the most valuable brands in college football, the messaging has been how FSU deserves to be treated as a special property.

One of Alford’s first major decrees after becoming athletic director was that FSU was moving away from neutral site games and in their place have been moves more reminiscent of FSU’s past. The LSU series that was agreed to prior to his arrival in Tallahassee was moved to the Sunday before Labor Day making it the only major college football game of the day. Last year’s game in New Orleans ended up being the highest rated regular season game featuring an ACC team thanks in part due to the lack of competition.

More controversially, the annual rivalry game vs Florida was moved to Black Friday last season. What was the rivalry of the 1990s had now become a footnote on Thanksgiving Weekend thanks to extended downturns by both programs. The gradual decline in TV ratings for the rivalry over the last decade made the need for some kind of shake up clear.

FSU vs. UF TV Ratings since 2012

Year Views In Millions Channel Kickoff Time (EST) Rank in timeslot Overall rank for Thanksgiving Weekend Notes
Year Views In Millions Channel Kickoff Time (EST) Rank in timeslot Overall rank for Thanksgiving Weekend Notes
2022 6.71 ABC 7:30 PM 1st 2nd Black Friday
2021 1.6 ESPN Noon 3rd 16th Directly opposed Ohio St/Michigan on FOX and UGA/GT on ABC
2019 N/A SEC Network 7:30 PM N/A N/A No ratings data for 2019 game. SEC Network games typically not rated due to lower viewership
2018 2.38 ABC Noon 2nd 10th Directly opposed Ohio St/Michigan on FOX
2017 2.056 ESPN Noon 3rd 14th Directly opposed Ohio St/Michigan on FOX and UGA/GT on ABC
2016 6.4 ABC 8:00 PM 1st 3rd Both teams ranked in Top 15. Directly opposed Utah/Colorado on FOX & Clemson/S. Carolina on ESPN
2015 4.28 ESPN 7:30 PM 3rd 8th Both teams ranked in Top 15. Directly opposed Notre Dame/Stanford on FOX and OU/Oklahoma St on ABC
2014 5.96 ESPN 3:30 PM 1st 3rd Directly opposed Ole Miss/MSU on CBS, Notre Dame/USC on FOX, and regional ABC games
2013 3.15 ESPN Noon 2nd 9th Directly opposed Ohio St/Michigan on ABC.
2012 8.5 ABC 3:30 PM 1st 3rd Both teams ranked in Top 6. Directly opposed Alabama/Auburn on CBS, Oklahoma/Okla St on ESPN, and Baylor/Texas Tech on FOX
Source: Sports Media Watch

The prior four meetings between the schools had been relegated to the college football equivalent of the Friday Night Death Slot. 2017, 2018, and 2021 games were sacrificed because ESPN needed something to go head to head against Ohio State/Michigan on FOX while the 2019 match up was bumped all the way down to the SEC Network.

Still, moving the game off Saturday drew plenty of criticism. FSU fans largely panned the move citing travel concerns on a holiday weekend and a feeling the game had lost prestige while UF fans compared it to a move by a G5 team.

Instead, the game was arguably Alford’s biggest success since taking over FSU athletics. The game sold out two months in advance, becoming the Seminoles first home sellout since 2015. With no other major competition that night, the game drew the second highest TV rating of Thanksgiving weekend and the most watched game in the rivalry since the 2012 showdown between 10-1 teams ranked in the Top 6.

NCAA Football: Florida at Florida State
Detractors said the move to Black Friday would cause attendance issues for the Florida game. Instead it provided FSU’s first sellout in 7 years and the most cathartic moment for fans in about as long.
Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

The strategy employed here is clear. Get FSU into unopposed TV slots allowing its brand recognition to attract more casual eyeballs than the games would otherwise get. As FSU continues to bang the drum for a larger share of the ACC’s TV money, moving games from crowded slots to unopposed ones is one of the best ways to show how valuable FSU is to the conference.

Moving the Georgia Tech game to Week Zero and the recent vague confirmation that FSU’s second game of the 2024 season will be a Labor Day night game vs Boston College will do wonders for FSU’s TV ratings in 2024. The Noles will likely be in for a rebuilding year in 2024, Georgia Tech hasn’t finished above .500 in six of the last eight years, and Boston College as a rule doesn’t escape the confines of the ACC Network unless absolutely necessary. These are two games that would’ve been relegated to mediocre TV slots with ESPN barely promoting them. Instead, FSU will be the marquee game to kickoff the 2024 season and ESPN will be running bumper ads all Labor Day weekend promoting FSU-BC on Monday Night.

Just as when Bobby Bowden helped FSU make its first uphill climb into college football’s upper echelon, the modern day Seminoles are demonstrating a flexibility few other major programs will entertain in order to keep TV partners happy and showcase the program. That will ultimately pay long term dividends, whether by helping to convince the ACC agreeing to unequal revenue sharing or ESPN keeping a spot open for the Seminoles in college football’s eventual super conference.