Anti-BCS group struggles to raise funds in first year

A political group founded last year to oppose the existing college football playoff system struggled to raise funds in first year of operation.

According to Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports filed by Playoff PAC, the committee only raised $5,974 in cash and in-kind contributions last year and had only three contributions of $200 or more.

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The group was founded in September amid much fanfare on Capitol Hill because it was backed by former Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), who oppose the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) system that critics say make it almost impossible for small schools to win a national championship.

Playoff PAC, which backs government action to create a college football playoff system, also garnered attention for launching a television ad in several small to medium sized markets slamming the Fiesta Bowl, one of five end-of-the-season contests included in the Bowl Championship Series.

But BCS officials had knocked Playoff PAC for failing to disclose the size of the ad buy and for launching it in cities that support small colleges whose fans already oppose the BCS.

Despite the publicity the group has garnered, its low fundraising totals show that it has more work to do before becoming a major player in Washington that can urge the government to get more involved in college football.

“We recognize that we have more work ahead of us on fundraising,” Playoff PAC official Matt Sanderson told The Hill.

The disparity between Playoff PAC and the well-funded BCS often times shows. The BCS recently reached a television contract to broadcast its games on sports giant ESPN starting in 2011 in a deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars. FOX and ABC Sports (which owns ESPN) already pay the BCS millions to broadcast its games.

The BCS, which operates as a loose confederation of eleven participating college football conferences, also spent $70,000 in federal lobbying last year and has spent $670,000 on lobbying since 2003 in an effort to better relations with lawmakers on the Hill, who last year considered legislation that would have eliminated the BCS' ability to market its final game as a "national championship."

In an effort to improve its image among skeptical fans, the BCS has retained the services of President George W. Bush’s White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer to head up its public relations effort. Former Bush communications staffer Trent Duffy also works as a consultant for the BCS.

By comparison, Playoff PAC only spent about $1,300 on advertising last year, which was used for Facebook ads and campaign signs. Sanderson said that the next quarterly report will show the Fiesta Bowl ad expenditures but did not say how much the group spent.

The group also struggled to raise funds from its congressional backers. Only Abercrombie’s campaign donated more than $200 to Playoff PAC, writing them a $1,000 check in October.

But Sanderson maintained that his PAC has still managed to influence the national conversation about the college football postseason without large sums of cash.

“In spending just $1,700, we shaped the public debate and forced the BCS to spend six-figure sums on new full-time staffers and consultants, including …Fleischer,” he said. “If we can accomplish all of that on a shoestring budget, we will accomplish much more once our fundraising operation is up and running.”

Sanderson’s group sent time last year promoting legislation introduced by Barton that sought to strip the BCS of its ability to market the season’s final game as a “national championship” because it is not the result of a playoff system.

The bill unanimously passed through subcommittee but did not receive a vote before a full committee.

Still, the legislation captured the attention of many on the Hill as bowl season approached.

Playoff PAC also relies on existing public opinion, which favors a college football playoff, to proliferate its message. But the group still must make up ground among the majority of Americans who oppose congressional involvement in college football.

Their lack of funds has also forced the group to get creative. The group recently released a web ad poking jabs at the BCS in the style of the widely-mocked “Demon Sheep” ad first launched by Carly Fiorina’s (R-Calif.) Senate campaign.

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