if so many viewers are in the east, why do prime match-ups start so late?
First, I could not be sympathetic. Having a day job and a small child along with getting old means that late kickoffs are an issue for me. For most night games I may not watch much of the end unless it’s compelling. I don’t think I’m alone, but…
To answer the question directly, it’s about money. Channels air college football games in order to make money. They make money by selling advertising. They can demand more from advertisers if they have more viewers, so they want to maximize viewers.
The most lucrative time to have viewers is primetime, defined as 8 pm to 11 pm
by Nielsen. During that time audiences tend to peak around 9:15 to 9:30. Audiences are lowest from 10:45 to 11:00. With that in mind it appears the ideal scenario for a television network is to have a game overlap with all of the East Coast’s primetime slot. Assuming a three and a half hour game, the ideal kickoff time would be about 7:30.
A secondary consideration would be the West Coast markets. Being three hours behind, primetime in Los Angeles doesn’t overlap with primetime in New York. As such it is hard to get a three hour game into both markets in primetime. Since New York and the East coast are vastly more important for ratings, kickoffs tend to cater to that. But the other timezones aren’t irrelevant, so I think the creep of kickoff times are an attempt to grab viewers there too. I assume they’ll continue to go later until east coast ratings drop off.