Monday, August 15, 2016

A few thoughts on Big 12 expansion from a television standpoint

Regarding Big 12 expansion, I have had three things that have floated across my mind:

* The current Big 12 contracts were finalized in early September of 2012 and that's when the provision was added to simply provide for any new schools an extra revenue share for TV instead of a full renegotiation for television.  We're now getting the "why did they (they being ESPN & FOX) do that?  What a dumb move."

Whether it was really true or not, there was a lot screaming going on in Tallahassee & Clemson about leaving the ACC and its disadvantages (some of it misinformed), and those schools certainly would have warranted an equal share of  TV revenue from the Big 12's television partners.

For ESPN and FOX (more for ESPN as an ACC TV rightsholder), the Big 12 provision could be viewed as a hedge against the ACC imploding and losing out on televising games from those schools.  Wasn't a bad hedge at the time, but with the ACC doing its own Grant of Rights in April of 2013, it kinda limited the Big 12's expansion targets to outside the Power Five conferences.  And we're now at a crossroads of sorts.

* Television networks, when it comes to college football, value flexibility.  See the Pac-12 for example, though that's a bit of a cautionary tale because the way some of their coaches talk about it with respect to night games, maybe they gave away too much of the farm (they're trying to fix it this year).

A few weeks back, I brought up how scheduling more games on weeknights, probably with any new members hosting, would be one way to provide a bit of value back to the television networks.  Another way to do it: targeting schools to the west of the conference's footprint.

The conference is currently dominated by schools in the Central Time Zone with West Virginia being the outlier in the Eastern Time Zone.  West Virginia has hosted eleven Saturday 12pm ET starts on various networks since joining the Big 12 from 2012 to 2015, more than any other Big 12 school (tied for second are Iowa St. and Kansas at ten each).

As noted above, FOX and ESPN have been given a bit of grief from the Pac-12 about nighttime starts in the Pac-12, but if they could schedule a 10pm ET / 8pm MT game, those could be more valuable than adding another school in the east and trying to fit the game on FSN or ESPNU.

* First, let me say as I was researching the paragraphs written below, I came across this piece by Scott Pierce of the Salt Lake Tribune, who puts forth the point that BYU would have no problem getting out of their TV deal with ESPN if it were to enter the Big 12.  I was researching whether BYU's football TV contract with ESPN was, possibly, more of a stumbling block.  Here's my thinking behind that:

  • Consider that we have both past (East Carolina, mid 90s in C-USA) and current (Navy with the American) precedent with an independent TV deal remaining in force when the school moved its football program into a conference.  Neither of those TV deals, as I understand it, are or were as lucrative to the schools as BYU's is.
  • There is a difference with the potential for BYU since ESPN is a Big 12 TV partner, so absorbing it into the Big 12 TV contract wouldn't be as unique as all Navy home games remaining on CBS Sports Network & CBS or ESPN picking two East Carolina games before FSN could take their C-USA games.  
  • ESPN pays BYU far less for its football rights than the combined TV share than a Big 12 school earns for all athletics, which would seem to be quite palatable for ESPN in the short term.  Big 12 could add a school, but ESPN in theory could continue to enforce the BYU football contract at whatever rate schedule is in force (I have read they get paid based on the network the game airs on).  Meanwhile, the Big 12 only gets a bump for adding BYU only in all other sports except football, unless they add them for football only, which means they could get no extra revenue from a TV deal.  
  • The Big 12 doesn't want to add someone that, in theory, won't add to their pile of cash or could actually pull money away from everyone else.  To my knowledge, Big 12 television partners aren't cutting eleven individual checks for TV; its a check to the conference who then divides it up.  BYU, in that sense, could be in more of a pay-to-play situation because they'd be paying to enter a conference and not reaping the benefits of increased income for a period of time.
  • On the FOX side of that house, if the ESPN contract were to remain in force, unless provisions were made by ESPN, FOX would have no access to BYU home games and limited access to four BYU conference road games as part of the Big 12 television deals.  I say "limited" because of the weekly selection process that most TV partners work with on their conferences.  There would also be virtually no access to BYU men's basketball (ESPN is national rightsholder), so FOX would have limited access to BYU athletics in the sports they are largely paying the most money towards existing Big 12 schools.

Pierce notes that when speaking to ESPN executives that "BYU can do what is best for BYU", but let's be clear that ESPN is also going to do what is best for themselves too, and that could include contract enforcement.

BYU should keep an eye on this whole thing, because if they were to stay independent in football, they may be able to gauge the market rate for themselves if they want to see what the market will bear for them in the next couple years.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Weeknight scheduling in a future Big 12, ASN and C-USA.TV

* There's a lot out there regarding the Big 12 and FOX and ESPN being upset regarding the addition of schools at higher than intended prices.  I encourage you to read as many of possible and draw your own conclusions.

I think there is one way to make both sides a bit more receptive to taking on extra schools and that is for the conference to be a bit more open to weeknight games.  Currently, the Big 12 allows TV partners to request four Thursday games and a Labor Day Sunday game.  My assumption is that the conference and TV partners can work within those parameters to also move games to the Friday after Thanksgiving and when necessary during the season.

The additions the Big 12 is expected to make will come from outside the Power Five conferences and these are conferences where playing on Thursday and Friday nights are regular occurrences in the yearly schedule.  My expectation is that any additions will come with a caveat from one side of the table or another to allow for more Friday night games, potentially with the incoming schools to be the ones hosting those games at first.   Both TV networks I would think would be receptive to an extra game from these conferences 3-4 times a year on Thursdays & Fridays.  Currently, the Pac-12 television contract requires a total of eight Thursday & Friday games (four from each day of the week) to be provided to TV partners.

For example, when Pittsburgh & Syracuse were added to the ACC, a deal was made to schedule some Friday night games with Boston College and Syracuse agreeing to be primary hosts for those games.  Since 2013, the schools hosting Friday night football in the ACC, excluding Black Friday and Friday before Labor Day:

Boston College - 4
Syracuse - 2
Florida St. - 1
Louisville - 1
Virginia - 1
Virginia Tech - 1
Wake Forest - 1

Louisville, added in 2014, was also not a stranger to hosting weeknight games in Conference USA and the Big East.  Same with Virginia Tech.  West Virginia, a current Big 12 member, played quite a few weeknight games as a Big East football member

Schools like Iowa St. & Kansas might be willing to move a game or two off Saturdays and I'm willing to bet that any incoming school won't be against maintaining a weeknight game.  And TV loves for a conference who is willing to be creative with their scheduling.

* Sinclair's American Sports Network released their telecast schedule on Wednesday.  Here's a brief overview:
  • The Sun Belt will have around seven to eight games and the American will have five games on ASN per the release.  The AAC games have already been accounted four.  It appears that the Sun Belt will have two to three twelve day selections during the year.
  • November 26th appears to be wide open for both the Sun Belt and Conference USA based on the following:
    • FCS conferences are in playoffs or have completed their seasons
    • All MAC games that week are on weeknights or Black Friday / November 25th
    • This assumes there won't be any additional American Athletic Conference games
  • Massachusetts will have four games on ASN.  I'm unsure if these will be carried on ESPN3, nor what the plans are for the FIU (9/17) and Wagner (10/29) games.  Wagner's game will start at 1pm ET, which doesn't seem to fit in any ASN telecast window.
Since ASN operates on a syndication basis & a full time over-the-air subchannel, the games that will air on your local station will vary.  My expectation is that C-USA games will, more likely than not, take priority on the national feed and that many FCS telecasts will be focused to local markets and maybe regional sports networks that will serve a large portion of a conference's land area.

* Several C-USA schools have loaded their non-televised home games into CUSA.TV.  Meanwhile, Middle Tennessee loaded several updates to their schedule, including some games on ESPN3 and the game at North Texas on Campus Insiders.  I've reached out to Campus Insiders but have not yet heard back from them.

Monday, August 1, 2016

CFB Notes: Possible hint on Red River Rivalry start time, more FBS on ASN

* The date and location of UFC 204 has been announced as October 8th in Manchester, England.  Both are important as they may provide a clue as to when Oklahoma vs. Texas (aka the Red River Rivalry/Shootout) may air on FS1.

October 8th falls within FS1's window of televising the National League Division Series, but they must provide two games to MLB Network.  In 2014, a Saturday game was sent over  (Dodgers-Cardinals Game 2) and in 2015, room was made for FS1 to televise the CONCACAF Cup match between the USA and Mexico.  At the moment, the soccer conflict doesn't seem to be in play, but MLB should be, but I do think that MLB Network will end up with a NLDS game that day.  To be clear, the entire MLB playoff schedule is in process of being finalized and usually isn't known until early September.

Since the UFC event is in England, five hours ahead of the US Eastern Time Zone, I think it is realistic to have the following schedule, assuming the prelim fights remain on FS1 (BST = British Summer Time, even though its no longer summer):

UFC Pre-Fight (12pm ET, 5pm BST)
UFC Prelims (1pm ET, 6pm BST)
Oklahoma vs. Texas (3pm ET, 8pm BST)
----
Pac-12 Game (10pm ET)

The Pac-12 game could always move up a few hours too, depending on what filler programming is utilized, such as UFC post-event programming that has been shown on FS1 or FS2 after pay-per-view events.

Note that the UFC 201 prelims aired on FS2, so the last few paragraphs may be worthless speculation.

* Besides ESPN appearing to strike another partnership with Sinclair's American Sports Network for Sun Belt football, ASN showed up at the American Athletic Conference media days.  Shortly after the first few tweets from them, Tulsa's account noted the following:
The conference's primary communications person for football noted that some details were still being finalized, but didn't deny the existence of the deal.

If any games from the first three weeks of the season were to be sent to ASN without changing any existing start times, I could see the Lamar at Houston on 9/10 at 12pm ET showing up here.  So far, no games have been scheduled for ASN in this telecast window.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Media Days Recap For CFB TV Items

A brief recap of TV related items coming out of the various college football media days.  This is going to be a bit of a link-fest, so read them all:

* This whole ACC Network thing.  Joe Ovies and David Teel also did some great work on the subject on the ground at ACC Media Days.  They got great feedback on the perception of cord cutting, where the content is coming from, etc.

* Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany made an informal announcement regarding the new TV deals with ESPN, FOX Sports, CBS and an extension with BTN.  A bit light on details, but Delany noted that he had to get approval from the TV partners to discuss it since some of the contractual details were not final.
One point of interest is Delany discussing "cross-promotion" of games, which is something I've been curious to see whether a conference would attempt to place on its TV partners, similar to some of the breaks you may seen in NBA games where ESPN, TNT and NBA TV are required to show a graphic & tell the viewer where the next week's worth of national telecasts will be shown, regardless of network.  It also appears that the Big Ten's telecasts will have some form of branding on ESPN and FOX Sports, similar to the "SEC on ESPN" and "ACC on ESPN" branding that occurs today.

* C-USA.TV debuted this week as a Sidearm Sports hosted site.  True to what Conference USA has said, the site will be a subscription based site either by school or for the entire conference.  It isn't much different than the CBS based site that C-USA worked off of for years.

Harry Minium of the Virginian-Pilot was also able to extract from C-USA commissioner Judy MacLeod that additional streaming partners would be announced next week.  Campus Insiders was at C-USA Media Day and it appears they'll be one of the streaming partners.   Minium also noted that ASN would be picking up more games for telecast.

I'm curious to see if C-USA.TV is a stop-gap until all schools have production equipment up to the standard that ESPN requires for ESPN3 webcasts, and if football will be inside or outside the subscription service.  Several soccer games are already in the schedule on the service.  I assume that once the other streaming partners are finalized, we'll find out exactly what football games are part of C-USA.TV.

* Speaking of content partners being at media days where they don't officially have a tie-in to a conference, ASN was at the Sun Belt Media Day.  And that makes sense when you consider that some Sun Belt games remain without start times for the opening three weeks and there's this nugget from RedditCFB (via CUSABBS):
So ESPN may be working on a deal with ASN similar to their deal with the MAC for sublicensed content in both football & basketball.  Might also be why the minimum for C-USA football and basketball was a bit lower since the two conferences have some overlap in land areas.

EDIT: * Greg Madia of Harrisonburg's Daily News-Record was able to get some information on the CAA's TV future, which enters the final year of their TV deal (hat tip to LFN):
This might have been why ESPN3 provided video of CAA Media Day and a deal could be forthcoming.  It wouldn't surprise me to see NBCSN scale back, but leaving a longer term relationship with Comcast SportsNet would be slightly eyeraising.  As Madia's article notes, NBCSN may not be at the table, but CSN regionals and Sinclair's ASN, two regional TV partners, are still in contact with the conference.

Monday, July 18, 2016

ACC Branded Networks Are Coming to Fruition

I'm going to leave these here.  So many beat writers and sports business writers already reporting it:

I've always been a bit pessimistic on an ACC branded TV channel.  As John explains, they'll need to get the channel started online and wait until the ESPN and/or Disney suite of channels comes up for negotiation to get onto TV.  There's precedent for ESPN asking for channel placement changes too, for example when ESPNU and ESPN Classic were swapped by many providers to get ESPNU in more homes.  Maybe this is what ESPN College Extra could morph into.

This would probably extend the existing TV deals for the ACC as well, based on an extension of the grant of rights.  Per the tweet below:
Also have been curious to see how Raycom does/doesn't fit into the equation.  They were brought in during the last round of open bidding for ACC rights to manage syndication and paid around 1/3rd of the rights fee, particularly in areas where both the ACC and SEC were selling syndication packages to local stations.  Supposedly the rights to Raycom's games were through 2027.  Were those bought back or is there a convoluted equity arrangement for Raycom, and by extension, FOX, who was granted some of this content, which ends up on several FOX Sports Net affiliated networks?  For FOX Sports Net, they might be able to replace a portion of the content using Big 12 football and Big East basketball for when the Big Ten moves some content over to FOX and FS1.  Since the network is starting this year with the RSN package already in place, I wouldn't expect a shift until 2017-18, which coincides with when FOX is supposed to start with the Big Ten

The SEC Network, from a numbers perspective for football, is similar in the number of games that ESPN previously sublicensed to FSN & Comcast, the SEC TV syndication package and each school's PPV/local TV game.  If ESPN were to get their content back from Raycom, which is around 30 football games & 70 exclusive men's basketball games (ie. not counting Raycom airing games side-by-side with ESPN like the ACC men's baskeball tournament & one Duke vs. UNC MBK game), they could supplement with content from ESPNU, ESPNEWS and ESPN3 to easily construct the TV network.  The ACC also has extensive coverage of baseball and women's basketball through their RSN package to fill out the schedule and some schools, such as Clemson, have invested in production equipment for ESPN3, which will probably be used for an ACC Network.

In terms of the men's basketball tournament, I could see part of that tournament moving to the ACC Network exclusively for the first two rounds (Tuesday & Wednesday) while keeping quarterfinals through the final (Thursday-Saturday) on ESPN.  I would assume that the simulcasting of games would end.  Where the conference network would end up with respect to selection order for football is anyone's guess.

For the ESPN operated ACC Digital Network that is being proposed, ESPN did open up several conference branded ESPN3 players a couple years ago, including the ACC, so for the digital side of things, will this be a rebrand of that digital platform?  The ACC also operates a digital vault of old games and a Campus Insiders branded channel and I would be curious to see whether that would be combined into a single ACC Digital Network.

Friday, July 15, 2016

MBK & CFB items for November

* Still no sign of Sun Belt early season start times for most of their conference controlled games.  Could be waiting until media day on July 25, which seems a bit later than expected.  Only thing I can think of is maybe ESPN is working on a sublicense of games, similar to their deal with the MAC and American Sports Network, and wants to have that completed, but to be honest, I really don't know.

"I really don't know" should be a recurring phrase from me.

* If I were to guess, and that's a really bad idea, Big Ten Media Days on July 25 & 26 would be an ideal time to announce the conference's rights deals for the upcoming seasons.  Jim Delany hinted to a series of summertime announcements.

* ESPN released brackets for several early season men's basketball tournaments that air on their networks over the past few days, with the exception of the Maui Invitation, which per Andy Katz will be announced next Tuesday.  Here's a few things I noticed from the schedules (see weeks 2, 3 and 7) with respect to other football and basketball items
  • On Thursday, November 17, I would expect both the Providence at Ohio St. and Seton Hall at Iowa games to air on BTN.  ESPN has Louisville at Houston in college football, ESPN2 has college basketball from Charleston and either Puerto Rico or MSG through 11:30pm ET and ESPNU has college basketball from Puerto Rico & either Charleston or MSG, followed by Arkansas St. at Troy football starting at 9:30pm ET.  ESPNEWS is an option, but I think its very unlikely.
  • With Arkansas St. at Troy on ESPNU at 9:30pm ET, the Marquette vs. Michigan 2K Sports Classic game should air on ESPN2. 
  • St. John's at Minnesota also appears destined for BTN on Friday, November 18th.  ESPN2 and ESPNU have college basketball most of the afternoon with ESPNU continuing into the evening while ESPN2 has UNLV at Boise St. in football in the evening.  ESPN likely will have the NBA.
  • The start time of the Legends Classic 3rd Place game could be in the early afternoon, like 3:30pm ET on ESPNU, as a MAC football telecast window is currently scheduled for 7pm ET on Tuesday, November 22.
  • Looking over Black Friday (Friday, November 25th), ESPN potentially has the following college football telecast windows, besides the two games already scheduled for ESPN:
    • 12pm ESPN, provided the Battle 4 Atlantis 3rd Place game airs on ESPN2 in between the Advocare Invitation Semifinal #1 & the NIT Tip-Off Championship.  This would place ESPN's first men's basketball game that day at 3:30pm and allow for the following
      • 12pm College Football
      • 3:30pm Battle 4 Atlantis Final
      • 6pm Baylor vs. Texas Tech
      • 9:30pm Arizona St. vs. Arizona
    • 5pm & 8:30pm ESPNU
    • It would appear that ESPN2 would be wall-to-wall with college basketball.
* Some CBS, CBS Sports Network & FOX Sports notes:
  • Expect the Great Alaska Shootout semifinals to either air delayed in sequential order or to air semifinal #2 live followed by semifinal #1 delayed on Friday, November 25th.  The Emerald Coast Classic semifinals will air live on Black Friday after either an American Athletic Conference or MAC football game, followed by Boise St. at Air Force in football.
  • With the Memphis at Cincinnati football game to start at 8pm ET on November 18th, the Paradise Jam bracket could change, as it has in previous years, to showcase more well known schools.  Using previous years as a guide, the Oral Roberts vs. Ole Miss and Montana vs. NC State games would be televised while the Loyola (Chicago) vs. St. Joseph's and Washington St. vs. Creighton games would be webcasts.
  • If FS1 were to air any college basketball on Friday, November 11 or Friday, November 18th, it would likely air before the NASCAR Truck Series races.  At the moment, only three Big East games were confirmed for 11/11, so FSN, FOX College Sports and/or FS2 may be used instead.
  • Expect Big East games scheduled for 11/12 (4 games), 11/19 (2 games), 11/26 (4 games) to air on FS2 or FSN due to college football commitments on FS1.  12/3 also has two college football games on FS1 and three Big East games, so there may be a need to use FS2 again.
  • Rutgers at Seton Hall on 12/23 could lead into the Las Vegas Classic 3rd Place & Championship games.
    • At the moment, no Big East games are scheduled for 12/22.  Keep hope alive that they'll televise the DePaul vs. Wyoming and USC vs. Missouri St. games will be on FS1.
  • Other potential FS2 dates for Big East games, once the schedule is finalized, due to NASCAR:
    • February 18th (Sprint Unlimited, ARCA(?) & Daytona 500 practice)
    • February 25th (Xfinity Series from Daytona, Sprint Cup practice)
    • March 4th (NASCAR Trucks & Xfinity Series, Sprint Cup practice)
  • Without putting a great deal of thought into it, here's some non-conference Big East games on Saturdays that could end up on FOX broadcast network or CBS:
    • Cincinnati at Butler (12/10)
    • Utah at Xavier (12/10)
    • Wisconsin at Marquette (12/10)
    • Connecticut at Georgetown (1/14/17)
      • Saturday of NFL Divisional Playoff Weekend
    • Virginia at Villanova (1/29/17)
      • Sunday between the NFL Conference Championship weekend & the Super Bowl

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Early July 2016 Notes

While we wait on the remainder of early season Sun Belt television assignments, which looks like the possibility of Boise St. at UL-Lafayette on ESPNEWS sometime after 5:30pm ET (maybe 8pm ET?) and the rest on ESPN3 when the get around to announcing it (maybe at their media day next Friday), here's some other interesting stuff to look into:

* Have been told that the San Francisco / Foster Farms Bowl is tentatively set for December 28th.  FBSchedules.com notes the following:
At the end of next week is the Pac-12's media days (July 14-15th), so it makes sense to have the loose ends tied up with respect to one of the bowl games your conference is playing in.  With that said, the Arizona Bowl is still finalizing some television partner information with Campus Insiders remaining the digital partner.

If you're wondering about December 28th with respect to college basketball:
  • It is tentatively the start of the Mountain West's conference play, though the release of the conference schedule notes that some games could be moved to Tuesdays for TV purposes.  That could mean that CBSSN would not be carrying this bowl game unless it were in the afternoon.
  • It could potentially be the start date for Big East play.  If FS1 were to be carrying this bowl game, it also may need to be in the afternoon if Big East play were to start that evening.
* Sidearm Sports took over hosting of a bunch of Division I websites this week.   Sidearm happens to be part of the Learfield Sports family, which is where some of those schools have their marketing rights.  One of the sites that it took over was Conference USA, which has a temporary landing page that notes the launching of C-USA.TV in the fall, though I would be willing to guess that late summer it will be ready.

There was speculation that C-USA would have multiple digital partners and C-USA.TV, assuming it is being hosted by Sidearm, seems to fill the need/desire for a subscription based service, plus discussion around the use of ESPN3 and/or Campus Insiders potentially.  I'll be straight with you: I have no idea about their digital strategy.  Sidearm recently took over the Patriot League's website, with the Campus Insiders' based Patriot League Network prominently embedded on the front page, so there is precedent for Sidearm and Campus Insiders working side by side.  C-USA schools have openly talked about using ESPN3 too, so maybe C-USA.TV is short term whether its a Sidearm or Campus Insiders managed website, and I'm not sure if Campus Insiders is in the picture.  I admit that I thought it was but may be wrong.

There was also this tweet yesterday from a Middle Tennessee beat writer:
Whether the spokesperson from ESPN was speaking from the position of TV networks vs. all platforms, and Aldo's tweet specifies "ESPN platforms" which one could interpret as including ESPN3, hopefully we'll find out soon.

* John Wildhack leaving ESPN to become Syracuse's athletics director was a big deal for those who put it in the frame of "Well, what does this mean for the possibility of an ACC Network?".  My thoughts:

Per his bio at ESPN, he oversaw content acquisition and rights negotiations, so I suspect he has some knowledge of the following:
  • Where ESPN was leaning with respect to the creation of an ACC Network vs. paying an enhanced rights fee for not creating the channel
  • Terms of the sublicense deal with Raycom and if there were any buyout/buyback provisions
    • He may have some basic knowledge of Raycom's sublicensing deals for FOX Sports Net too.
  • Budget & costs required to start up the SEC Network and Longhorn Network
  • Expiration of existing carriage agreements with distributors like DirecTV, Dish, Comcast, etc.
And that's a lot more than the average AD in the ACC probably knows about the rights agreement, especially when some ADs and school presidents get pressed that they have no copy of the TV deal.  I'm willing to wager that Wildhack has solid working knowledge of the deal, maybe second only to ACC commissioner John Swofford since Swofford's concern was one TV deal and Wildhack had a few hundred to look after if you add up everything ESPN has (then again, maybe that's a downside of Wildhack too).

Anyways, if the ACC really needed another ally, or at least someone to level set their expectations regarding a conference network, he's on their side of the table now.