Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Big East TV Rights: Where do we go? -- Part Two

Part One explored where the Big East is currently at with respect to TV rights, specifically with finances, exposure and content ownership.

Right now the Big East has the following from ESPN and CBS

Football
  • 17 games, minimum, on ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 (ABC is supposed to carry three games per year)
  • At least five games on ESPNU
  • Regional syndication and ESPN3.com exclusives are available for ESPN to take advantage of, though the regional package is no longer the most widely syndicated package by ESPN Regional.  That belongs to the SEC.
  • In terms of game dates, one can be on Wednesday, up to two games on Sundays, four on Thursdays.
Basketball
  • 64 games per year on ESPN/ESPN2 (49 regular season games, plus conference tournament)
  • Of the regular season games, 41 must be conference games
  • CBS will carry five conference games
  • ESPN Regional/Big East Network must carry 66 conference games and 22 non-conference games
  • ESPNU and ESPN3 can carry 30 games combined
Lets now look at the various options out there and what they bring to the table:

* ESPN - The safe choice right now. ESPN treats the conference very well with respect to basketball. I'm not sure I'd change any coverage aspects here. They also handle the regional basketball package and it allows the conference to be hands off, for the most part, when it comes to TV. Whether that is a good thing or not is for another article.

From my standpoint on football, ESPN doesn't do as well when compared to other AQ conferences with the number of telecasts on weeknights, though late week football is becoming more reasonable to other AQ conferences. ABC coverage is minimal compared to the other AQ conferences on ABC, but as the Pac-12 is now proving over the past two years, a presence on over-the-air TV isn't as important as national coverage.

One place where ESPN really excels is the digital area.  ESPN3's coverage has grown by leaps and bounds and with the addition of apps for tablets and cell phones, it is a leader.

The only other debatable item if the conference were to stay with ESPN is whether they would want to bid on the CBS package of basketball games. My guess is they would since those games could easily be worked in to the schedule.

* FOX Sports Media Group - I don't see them being involved. With the amount of content they bought for the Big 12 and Pac-12, along with their C-USA content and vast regional sports coverage at both the college and pro levels, I don't find them appealing to the conference at this point and I don't see FOX having the space to provide them adequate coverage on any level.

* CBS & CBS Sports Network - I have no doubt that CBS would love to retain their presence as the over-the-air carrier for the conference's regular season basketball coverage. CBS was the primary carrier of the conference's football package until 2001 and it doesn't feel like they've desired to bring the conference back, though the conference's football membership was quite different and on some levels more nationally relevant.

Does CBS have the room to provide some football coverage at 12pm? Sure. Does it want to? Probably another story. As for CBS Sports Network, it would love the cache of having an AQ conference, but with long term contracts tied up in the two eastern services academies, Conference USA and the MWC, they don't have the room on the football side either. Basketball they would love to take though, but with the network trying to shed its collegiate nature, they may wish to spend money elsewhere.

On a regional level, CBS Sports Network has handled the Atlantic 10's basketball syndication package. In terms of production, what I have seen from the network is a solid improvement over several years. The only downside is that the games are seen on fewer regional sports network affiliates that when the A-10 controlled the package themselves.

CBS does show their SEC football, along with basketball games its owns, through CBSSports.com.  They have have the digital assets from CBS Sports Network to provide online viewing, but some of the CBS Sports Network collegiate programming is left to the schools to provide and produce.

* Comcast/NBC - The big spender in the Pac-12 rights race until ESPN and FOX paired up, Comcast might be the best option to drive up the price. While they have the room on Saturdays for football on Versus (soon to be renamed....something else) and could provide a presence on NBC, the increase in the NHL package is a detriment to the conference. Since the NHL and college basketball seasons run concurrent, and Versus has favored carrying eastern and central time zone teams' home games, Versus doesn't necessarily have the room to showcase Big East basketball at night. On the weekends? Yes.

Comcast does have a strength in its regional networks and the areas they cover with respect to the location of many Big East schools. But several of them also have pro sports agreements and it could be tough to crack those lineups too.

NBC does provide for their Notre Dame football games to be streamed online via NBCSports.com, but coverage on Versus has not been made available through the internet.

* Turner - The wildcard. Since they don't have an over the air network component, not to mention that their networks are general entertainment and not 24/7 sports, they don't seem suited to taking on a full package in basketball. Maybe a weekend package with another network with a single dedicated weeknight to the conference (see the NBA on TNT). But they do want some college basketball content to compliment their NCAA Tournament coverage and they've spoken about trying to raise the visibility of TruTV, which is more based in reality show types of programming. 

In football, they have the room, more likely for a game or two on the weekend. Again, the general entertainment nature of their networks don't seem to mesh with the ability to do 3-4 Thursday night football games.

Turner doesn't have any regional networks to speak of. They are part of the larger Time Warner system, which has a stake in the CW, but no one has pushed making sports a part of that network on a national basis.

Turner does have a decent portfolio of online content management with the NBA, NASCAR and the NCAA.  Turner began managing NCAA March Madness On Demand this past tournament and incorporated several social networking functions and added tablet/mobile apps.

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In Part Three, I'll go over what I would do with respect to a proper rights fee target, coverage levels and what to do with third-tier rights.

2 comments:

Sean O said...

"Versus doesn't necessarily have the room to showcase Big East basketball at night."

I highly disagree with this. ESPN showed Big East games on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Versus could easily give the Big East three nights a week.

They could also offer them Friday nights, which ESPN shied away from because of their NBA coverage. But before the all-star, they put Louisville/UConn in the Friday night spot and it did like 2+ million viewers.

The options for the Big East and its massive inventory are Comcast and ESPN.

If it were up to me, the Big East would start its own network on the strength of basketball.

http://thebubblescreen.blogspot.com/2010/12/big-east-needs-to-use-basketball-to.html

Matt said...

Sean, the NHL contract is a roadblock. There will be 90 games on Versus starting next year up from about 60.

If 70 of those are in the eastern and central time zone and on Mondays, Tuesdays & Wednesdays, those days are completely out the window (NHL games fill a 2.5 hour slot plus a 1/2 hour postgame, where college fills 2 hours).

So the Big East schools would be left to cram their national TV time into Thursday-Sunday.

The other issue with several schools in conference is arena availability. Some schools have the ability to play at multiple locations, but some don't and are at the mercy of waiting for the NHL, AHL and NBA schedules to come out.

Fridays are a big night for pro sports in several areas. The Big East did well on those Friday nights because of the absence of events.