Skip's college bowl post brought to mind my wife's puzzlement over why big college bowls are so spread out after New Year's Day. Maybe her question expresses more her discontent with my extended watching than with the bowl ratings, but I laid a little econ theory and bowl history on her nonetheless. In short, "location" theory and a "tragedy of the commons" problem go along way toward an explanation.
At one time, the big four bowls (Rose, Sugar, Orange, and Cotton) held the marquee NYD spots. This semi-collusive, oligopoly structure involved only small competitive forces such as the Sugar's experimentations with NY Eve and different NYD time slots. In 1981, the Fiesta bowl busted up the stability, switching to NYD. Basic "location theory" predicts the Fiesta's decision -- if the NYD bowls sit right in the middle of a big pool of consumers, then move right up next to them (the Burger King - McDonald's outcome).
Eventually, the Citrus Bowl (now Capital One) figured out this logic, then others followed. The prime real estate became congested -- the "commons" problem" -- leading the most prominent bowls (except the Rose) to explore post-NYD dates. As in many "commons" situations, the final result can look perverse. Now, the old prime real estate on the day that many football fans devoted (or devoted) to watching bowl games has turned into the outlet mall. With the exception of the Rose Bowl, all four of the other games involved at least one team with at least four losses. In the old days, I watched football from 11 AM to 10 PM on NYD. This year, I probably saw 30 minutes, opting to attend a basketball game instead. I watched quite a bit of the Fiesta Bowl because and quite a bit of Championship game, but my overall number of hours watching is considerably less than when NYD reigned supreme.