Friday, January 17, 2014

Is the Big East overexposed on FOX Sports 1?

Going back to my blog post re: conferences and the tiers of networks their games appear on, the Big East had a clear lead in the Tier I category with their contract with FOX Sports with nearly 120 Big East games on FOX Sports 1 alone.  My assumption is that the fan bases of the ten schools are happy with the increased coverage when compared to games that might go without TV or be shown as internet exclusives or only via regional TV.

FOX's investment for the amount of games, averaging just under $42 million per year to the conference ($500 million over 12 years), with some portion of that presumably being taken off their hands by sublicensing to CBS.  That amount is roughly three times what FOX and CBS together pay C-USA today and slightly less than double what the American receives from ESPN (basketball & football) and CBS (basketball) starting with the 2014-15 athletic year.  In year one, it looks like an massive overpay.  One can't predict the future though.   One thing on the Big East's side is that they now have the tangible asset of being able to show a recruit what FOX Sports 1 is, compared to last year where they were recruiting with a future channel in their pocket.

My take is that the number of games on FS1 is a bit of a Big East overload, particularly when FOX didn't mix in many games from outside the conference during non-conference play in November & December.  Before the Big East marathon on New Year's Eve, the split on FOX Sports 1 was 45 Big East games, four C-USA games, three neutral site games and one Pac-12 game.  Nearly a 5:1 ratio when combining the games not part of the Big East contract.  The ratio does get slightly better as conference season started with 21 of the Pac-12 games contracted to FOX, three Pac-12 tournament games and six of the ten C-USA games FOX has rights to.  I do not know what the parameters were for the Big East contract except that CBS can take ten more games starting next year for airing on CBSSN or CBS.  Whether CBS's sublicense number accounts for the possibility of a 12 team conference, I do not know.

Over time, I would try to see if more of non-conference games could air on FSN, at least regionally, or FS2.   FOX is in a bit of a bind trying to push viewers over to FS1 & getting FS2 in more homes.  Is it worth taking that content elsewhere in the company when the "crown jewel" needs live events?  Is it worth airing Manchester-Butler for example for two hours or investing in something else?

FOX could also use a fourth conference to move into mix.  FOX College Sports, via simulcasts from MidCo Sports Network, shows the Summit League.  ROOT Sports apparently has the rights to Big Sky basketball along with football from the conference, but you wouldn't know that because ROOT has never aired a game from the conference.  As a cheap alternative, maybe a few of those games could be moved up or bought just to get someone new in the mix.

Of the rights that could be out on the open market, the obvious one is the Big Ten whose rights come up for bid in a couple years.   Of the conferences that FOX has regional relationships with, the Missouri Valley comes up for bid in 2016 as well.  The Big West might be available, but the conference recently began working with ESPN to stream games via a unique mobile production unit.  The CAA will be available in 2017 but they have had a long relationship with Comcast, especially when you look at the conference's footprint and where FOX doesn't have their RSNs.  The Ivy League could be available after this athletic year too, though FOX might also have to commit to Ivy League football as well on either FS1 or FS2.

Your thoughts?


bigddan11 said...

You know, no where does it say that Tier 2 contracts have to be with regional affiliates. If I were FOX, I'd work with schools like their Big XII counterparts and move some of those non-conference games they have Tier 2 rights to over to FS1 and FS2. The same thing can apply to the Big West's Tier 2 contract with FS Prime Ticket/ San Diego. However I'd mostly target the conferences that have little to no exposure. Conferences like the NEC, Patriot League, Southland, SWAC, MEAC, etc. have to rely heavily on digital distribution because they have less than 10 games on TV, and most of those are on ESPN3 during conference season. Do you really think they wouldn't go for a small Tier 2 out-of-conference packge on a station like FS1 or FS2. They'd do anything to get more money, and they'll need it if they have to start paying college athletes a small stipend.

Matt Sarzyniak said...

I think there are some conditions around the institutional basketball games in the Big 12 and where they can air. ESPN may have indeed sublicensed some games to FSN as around 20 games aired on their RSNs during non-conference play.

ESPN may have allowed for that sublicensing on the condition that they not air on FS1 or FS2. That's just a guess though. ESPN's Big 12 contract allows for 20 games to be sublicensed to national networks outside of the 95(?) games that ESPN has rights to via the national cable nets plus Big 12 Network syndication. The 20 doesn't include whatever CBS licenses from ESPN. That comes out of ESPN's count.

As for the Big West, I'm fairly certain that ESPN's contract makes them the exclusive national provider of Big West basketball and FOX cannot elevate the regional games. FOX College Sports does provide those games a "national" outlet, but I imagine that because it isn't in enough subscribing homes, it is considered no different than the DirecTV or Dish Network home buying the sports package to watch the games.

Matt Sarzyniak said...

Also wanted to mention that the chance of moving up ACC games is probably not an option either. Those airing on many FSN affiliates plus a few non-FSN RSNs are part of a regional package granted by ESPN to Raycom, who in turn signed up mostly FOX RSNs to air them.

bigddan11 said...

I didn't mention the ACC or SEC packages solely because ESPN owns those packages. That's why they are simulcast on ESPN3, and that's why ESPN graphics are used for the SEC games, which will be on SEC Network next year anyway.

Fox's graphics are used for the ACC games, but ESPN has final say on what station those games can air on since they own all ACC distribution rights and merely sublicense them to RAYCOM. I still find it ironic that they let ACC Network stream their tourney games on the AC website when ESPN is also airing them. The ACC tourey games are the only ones ESPN doesn't air on ESPN3.