Sunday, January 15, 2012

The TV worth of a CUSA/MWC merged conference's Dennis Dodd has been on the MWCUSA beat lately, noting that the two conferences would have administrators meeting on Sunday 1/15 and the possibility exists that a merged conference could jump ahead of the Big East when it comes to negotiating with television partners.

My expectation is that any form of merged conference would not take place until 2013, but if they were to agree to dissolve both conferences, they would be able to take themselves to the open market immediately.  It is my understanding that for the combination of schools to be able to take themselves on the open market, they cannot simply merge under one conference's banner or the other as they would likely have to stay with existing TV partners.  I do not know if FOX, CBS Sports Network or Comcast/NBC have any provisions with their contracts if they have the ability to exclusively negotiate with any of these parties if either conference dissolves.

So what value is out there for a merged MWCUSA?  They can boast, like the Big East did after inviting five new football members, that they have the ability for television to air games in virtually any timeslot.  The television value of these members themselves is debatable and the same goes for the Big East.  Does that value include weeknight games?  Neither C-USA nor MWC wanted to play on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or most Fridays when they left ESPN.  Does that change to get ESPN involved in the bidding? It may be the only way they get involved.

These two conferences make up the bulk of CBS Sports Network's college football and basketball coverage, so I would be surprised if they weren't actively involved in any potential bidding.  I'm sure that NBC Sports Network and FOX Sports want to maintain their existing relationships, but the question will be whether the conference and either of these potential TV partners demand some form on "primary cable" exclusivity (ie.  NBCSN or FOX is the primary partner, CBSSN the secondary partner).  NBCSN might be more aggressive since they have no other major college football, save for the Ivy League, while FOX has the Big 12 to occupy slots on FSN.

Last question becomes what to do with regional TV coverage.  Comcast has it with the MWC via the mtn. and does have an agreement with CBSSN to carry some C-USA games on CSS.  FOX has the regional infrastructure, but with a common footprint with the Big 12, what ability do they have to pick up those games?

I don't know that using the Big 8-SWC merger into the Big 12 will be able to set any precedents.  Both conferences were part of the CFA group contract and went out on their own, where these two schools were already negotiating independently.

Will be interesting to see how this shakes out.  Stay tuned.

Friday, January 6, 2012

2012 Pac-12 Schedule Analysis For TV

The 2012 Pac-12 Schedule came out this week and it gave us a small glimpse of the future of Pac-12 football schedules.  Cal and Stanford were the most perturbed parties as their rivalry game ended up being moved to October.

As we know, FOX and ESPN are now shared rightsholders of the Pac-12 for 44 football games with the Pac-12 Networks picking up the remainder of the games.  The Pac-12 Networks have maintained that they will have premium football content some weeks during the season and pick ahead of FOX and ESPN.

To me, I would want my top ten football games to remain on over the air television.  We know that FOX will have eight football games and ABC will have two.  I think most of those ten games will be picked on a weekly basis.  I believe the networks will look to pick the following games before the season starts:

10/6 Washington at Oregon
10/13 USC at Washington
11/3 Oregon at USC
11/24 Notre Dame at USC

Of those I could see USC-Washington ending up on ESPN in the early evening.  The other three I could see on FOX.  I would have put USC-Washington on ABC, but the network has the NASCAR Sprint Car race from Charlotte that evening.  The goal of the new Pac-12 contract is to get games shown nationally and placing that game on ABC at 3:30 PM ET with at least a Big Ten game and possibly an ACC and/or Big 12 game doesn't reach the national distribution that the conference wants.

Eight primetime regular season games have also been set aside.  I believe nearly all will air on ESPN or ESPN2, at least all of the Thursday games plus the November 2nd Friday game.  The number of games that could air on ESPN Networks on Black Friday depend on their college basketball workload as the networks air games from the tournaments they own in Orlando & Anaheim plus the NIT Tip-Off.  It also depends on whether they elect to televise any NBA games that day.  The eight games set aside are

Thursday 9/27 Stanford at Washington
Thursday 10/4 USC at Utah
Thursday 10/11 Arizona St. at Colorado
Thursday 10/18 Oregon at Arizona St.
Friday 11/2 Washington at California
Friday 11/23 Arizona St. at Arizona
Friday 11/23 Washington at Washington St.
Friday 11/23 Utah at Colorado

Let's say that the Pac-12 Networks pick up the Apple Cup and that the other two Black Friday games are on ESPN or ESPN2.  Couple that with the USC at Washington game, ESPN would have 14 remaining selections for Saturdays.  A few could air on ESPNU (up to four) with the other ESPN/ESPN2 eight likely in the late evening (~10 PM ET).  I could see the early season OOC games being heavily weighted into the Pac-12 Networks list of games.

Note that there are some new parameters around the Pac-12 television selection order too.