Saturday, January 31, 2015

Michigan/Utah (not so fast), the Move of the Big 12-SEC Challenge and the '15 Pac-12 Football Championship

* If you were watching the Kent St. at Buffalo last night (1/30) on ESPNU and happened to listen to Jim Barbar promote ESPNU's national signing day coverage (or in my case, get up to switch to Side 4 of Daft Punk's Random Access Memories on your turntable), you might have caught the play-by-play man segue into discussion on Michigan and they note that the Michigan at Utah game would be on ESPN.  And I found that kinda odd, though Barbar is based in the heart of Big Ten country, so maybe he was given a heads up.

Anyways, I tweeted about that this morning, and got a reponse from the man who does a lot of the work on ESPN's college football scheduling.

So we're done here, at least for a few months.

* You may have heard that the Big 12-SEC Challenge is moving to from an early season event to being played in late January, specifically all games on Saturday, January 30th, 2016 and all games on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU.  A few things that came to mind about this:

  • With four teams not participating each year, I would expect the SEC Network to carry either conference or non-conference games involving the other schools on that date.  In 2014, the SEC Network and ESPN3 carried unique productions of Auburn at Texas Tech.
  • I am running under the assumption that CBS cannot carry any of the SEC home games as part of this event.  I don't know how it is decided which SEC men's basketball games that CBS can air, but I assume there is a way to keep all the games for this event on ESPN platforms.  The same I believe is true for ESPN and its sublicensing of Big 12 games to CBS.
  • I am curious to see whether Kentucky & Kansas will be paired as opponents.  The two schools played as part of the Champions Classic event in 2014 and the next matchup between the two, assuming the same four schools stay in this event, would be in 2017.
* So why is the Big 12-SEC Challenge moving?  I have a theory, so humor me for the moment.

The basketball event ran in a Wednesday-Saturday block of programming the week after Thanksgiving in 2014 and Friday, arguably, had the two marquee games (Texas at Kentucky & Florida at Kansas), both on ESPN.  On ESPN2 the MAC Championship game aired.

Moving forward to 2015, ESPN again has the rights to the Pac-12 football championship game, and when they released their schedule, they left open the possibility of the game airing on Friday.  With the MAC championship presumably staying on Friday, ESPN2 was blocked, but to free up ESPN to potentially air the Pac-12 championship, they requested to move the basketball event.

To be fair, there are couple things up in the air when it comes to the possibility of playing the Pac-12 championship on Friday again.  
  • The NFL schedule.  It looks like the Falcons do not play a home game the day after the SEC Championship game, and the same for the Panthers with the ACC Championship.  I assume the 49ers have requested the NFL to be on the road that weekend.  Typically the conferences want control of the stadium for a couple days before the game if possible.
  • The attendance wasn't great for a Friday night.  Per Wikipedia, kickoff was a 9:21pm ET and there were 45,000+ in attendance.
  • With the game on cable and less beholden to the whims of broadcast TV and serving affiliates, the game could possibly start later if desired.
To be fair, I may have my tinfoil hat on for this one.  The American Athletic Conference also has its championship this weekend for the first time, but it seems they are locked into a Saturday championship game per their website.  C-USA (on ESPN Networks) & the Mountain West (currently CBS's option to carry) are also that weekend.  The Big 12 has two conference games available that weekend too. 

But because the Pac-12 left themselves open to the possibility of a Friday game, it kinda fits, at least for the moment.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Quick notes on the 2015 ACC football schedule

A few notes related to the weeknight schedule for the ACC, specifically the games under its control.

* Just three Thursday night games seems a tad low for the conference while the five Friday games are abnormally high, but when you put them together, it is right around where the ACC has been in previous seasons.  Curious to know if the regular season being one week shorter is part of the issue.

* As noted on the schedule, the Miami (FL) at Cincinnati game could move to Thursday, October 1st.  ESPN does not have a Thursday night game currently scheduled on that day, nor are there any unclaimed Thursday night games scheduled for that day yet from the Big 12 or Pac-12.

* The odd start time of 11:30am ET for the USF at Florida St. game may be due to the US Open women's singles championship match on 9/12.  ESPN may be working with the USTA to finalize the schedule, but if CBS televises a SEC game on 9/12, mid-afternoon might be a good time to show something else & pick back up with SEC games on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU in the evening.  SEC Network is still an option in mid-afternoon too.

* Two of the midseason weeknight games have some possibilities when it comes to either doubleheaders or indications on the network for another game airing that evening.
  • Friday 9/25 - Boise St. at Virginia & Stanford at Oregon St.
  • Thursday 10/29 - North Carolina at Pittsburgh, West Virginia at TCU and Oregon at Arizona St.
For both of the ACC games, it depends on when they kickoff because it can allow ESPN to do a doubleheader with the Pac-12 game.  If the start time is after 7pm, I would say that it is less likely for ESPN to do a doubleheader, though they they could show each game on a different network (ie. one on ESPN, one on ESPN2 or ESPNU).

For the three games on 10/29, I believe it is more likely that FOX Sports 1 is taking West Virginia at TCU.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Some scheduling considerations for C-USA, Mountain West & Navy coming into 2015

Two conferences and one school attached to a conference, but with their rights controlled by a TV deal signed as an independent, are a few of the interesting pieces and parts of filling out scheduling and television for the 2015 season.

Conference USA

This is the final year of C-USA's existing rights agreements with FOX and CBS Sports Network.  While the members have changed, FOX still seems to be able to take the first ten games they want, then CBS Sports Network takes ten if they want them, with FOX taking the next ten.

If I were FOX, I'd look at the following five non-conference games off the top:

Purdue at Marshall (9/5)
Mississippi St. at Southern Miss (9/5)
Kansas St. at UTSA (9/12)
Miami (FL) at FAU (9/12)
Vanderbilt at Middle Tennessee (10/3)

To get the first two sets of games on FOX nets, one might have to air on FSN or on a different night so that it can air on FOX Sports 1.  On 9/5, FS1 may only have one college football slot available if you consider the possibility of airing an MLB game & UFC prelims.  The NFL season starts on 9/10 and FS1 has aired a C-USA game on the opening Thursday night of the NFL the past two years.

Because C-USA's schedule is still in process and is likely in need of rework with the closure of UAB's football program, FOX may be working with the conference to be able to cherry pick the five best conference games and strategically place them on dates where FOX can best carry them.

Mountain West

CBS Sports Network is in a unique position because they can choose eight games off the top from the Mountain West inventory, excluding Boise St. home games which belong to ESPN.  After CBSSN claims their games, ESPN and CBSSN alternate selections until 44 games are made, 22 by each network.

So what games could CBSSN take off the top?

I believe they have to "claim" the four Boise St. road non-conference games, otherwise ESPN can choose them.  After that, I believe they've claimed the Colorado at Hawai'i game that has been moved to Thursday 9/3.  Pay little attention to that 7pm local start time.  I'm not sure they'll be kicking off a nationally televised game at 1am eastern time, nor do I think this game ends up in Hawai'i's pay-per-view package.

With the final three games, I think CBSSN will try to claim the Arizona at Nevada (9/12), UCLA at UNLV (9/12) and Utah at Fresno St. (9/19) games.  Looking over a few of the "beyond too early" top 25 rankings (then again, isn't that what this post is about TV schedules?), these three Pac-12 schools should be ranked in the top 25.  Don't be surprised if at least one of them is played on a Friday night too.


While Navy is entering the American Athletic Conference in 2015, the television rights to their home games remain with CBS Sports Network.  One of the unique aspects to this arrangement is that Navy, which in the past has had control of its scheduling, is now having to work with a conference office and potentially multiple TV outlets as ESPN is the main rightsholder for the conference and controls the TV rights to Navy's four conference road games.

Usually we'd have an idea when Navy's home games would be played, in terms of the dates, and now CBSSN is probably working with ESPN and the conference office to figure out what dates they'll have Navy football and how that figures in to the rest of the CBSSN schedule.

One thing I don't know is if ESPN and CBSSN will consider the possibility of "trading" Navy games, for example if there was a date on the schedule where carrying games from several agreements (Army, Mountain West, C-USA, American sublicense, Patriot League) would mean that CBSSN would consider passing a Navy home game to ESPN.  CBSSN could gain access to additional Navy games through the sublicensing of American Athletic Conference games from ESPN, ie. the four Navy road conference games, through the 12 day selection process.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Looking into the future for C-USA's upcoming rights negotiation

The 2015-16 athletic year is the final year of Conference USA's rights deals with FOX Sports, CBS Sports Network and Sinclair Broadcasting/American Sports Network.  The conference has had several membership changes over the course of the existing television contracts, with the latest being the loss of UAB as a football member and the possibility the school will either leave or be removed from the conference.

With the most recent membership changes occurring over the past two offseasons, the conference has seen declines in the number of televised games on CBS Sports Network.  The contract with FOX started with FSN being the primary outlet for games and the addition of FOX Sports 1 has increased the conference's ability to be seen nationally, but men's basketball has taken a bit of a step back with just three regular season games on FS1 in 2014-15.

The conference made changes in scheduling for men's basketball coming into the 2013-14 season with games being scheduled on Thursdays & Saturdays with some exceptions could be made for television.   When the conference left ESPN, a key item cited was to get away from playing football  games on Tuesday & Wednesday nights.

So where would the conference go?  And what would deal look like?

I believe that FOX and Sinclair will stay in the picture.  FOX has for the most part stuck to their word on the weeknight scheduling in football of Thursdays & Fridays.  They've reclaimed the men's basketball conference championship game from CBS (one could ask whether CBS would continue to show it with the changes in membership) and given it a more palatable time slot.  FOX gave ESPN the football championship game to satisfy a lawsuit between the conference and ESPN.  I believe a renewed contract would allow FOX to keep the game.  Whether FOX would ask to move more games over to FOX Sports 2, or to provide for some exclusives via FOX Sports GO, if they want to compete for the Big Ten rights in the future would likely be part of the negotiations.

Sinclair has talked about the possibility of creating a full time national sports channel around the American Sports Network and C-USA's rights could be a starting point.  Getting some of the rights that CBS Sports Network has currently would be a good addition to the syndication rights they have today.  Remember that the person in charge of Sinclair ASN venture once tried to start a network with a bunch of rights from several conferences.

I am unsure whether the existing FOX or CBSSN agreements includes any right of first refusal language into their contracts.  I would assume that they do.  I don't see ESPN being involved and if it is, I believe it will be dependent on the nights the conference is willing to have televised football games on ESPN, ESPN2 & ESPNU.  Games on ESPNEWS, if needed, would likely on Saturdays.  Another aspect of a deal would likely be for a large number of football games on ESPN3.    NBCSN seems to be a bit of a wildcard.  Can they carve time out around golf, Notre Dame football, Barclays Premier League and NASCAR?  Maybe, maybe not.  They have a different strategy compared to the others, and I don't find a lot of fault with it.

The rights fee cost won't break the bank for anybody.  C-USA isn't exactly in a position of power when you consider the changes in membership they have had.  When you look at the American Athletic Conference getting around $18 million per year as a conference from ESPN, they've set the bar and I believe the Mountain West is close or equal to that amount between CBS Sports Network and ESPN.  The MAC was ten million dollars below that amount at an average of $8 million per year with their most recent extension.

Length of the contract is where C-USA may have trouble.  Networks are willing to pay for a proven stable commodity.  If there are concerns about the schools that make up C-USA, or concerns about their ability to offer sports like football, networks could use that to their advantage and look to offer a shorter term deal.  Conversely, if a conference proves its worth and stability over a shorter period of time, they have the chance to get a bump in their rights fee at a more rapid rate.

Monday, January 12, 2015

CFB schedule shuffle time, possible dates for Gavitt Tipoff & ACC schedule coming soon

* Mentioned this in the previous blog article, but I suspect that some CFB schedule decisions, alterations, etc. for '15 will start to come out over next few weeks.  What I'm specifically referring to is where schools will move a game to a different week and that ESPN, FOX and others will be either officially or unofficially cited as the reason for the change.

Two events where a lot of schedule makers will be in place would be to discuss these changes:

1) CFB Playoff Championship.  The bowl games themselves last week plus tonight's game no doubt has some ESPN personnel on hand plus ADs and other folks assigned to put together schedules. 


2) The NCAA convention starting Wednesday in Maryland.  Again, plenty of schedule makers.  Since its the NCAA convention and not just the FBS schools, FCS schools may also be working the floor to help fill a schedule.

In both cases, I believe the ability to meet face-to-face can help speed up the process.  It is also the time where a school may try to break an agreement to take on a different opponent, and those discussions can occur with everyone in the room.

* FBSchedules passed along a tweet that noted the ACC schedule for '15 should be out in late January.  The conference's weeknight schedule, along with the weeknight schedules for the American, Conference USA and Mountain West, should provide a bit of a framework for who will have the weeknight games for the Big 12 and Pac-12.  One item the ACC doesn't have to worry about for this year is who to place in their Labor Day game since Ohio St. at Virginia Tech will be the game.  In the past, ACC schools have had to move around non-conference games to free themselves up to play on Labor Day.

* Right now, I'm expecting the Gavitt Tipoff games for the Big East & Big Ten to be held from November 10-13 based on the days of the week matching the 2009-10 season and the press release stating the games would be from Tuesday-Friday from the first full week of the season..  With that said, I would not expect FOX Sports 1 to show a Thursday or Friday CFB night game that week.  Currently, the only weeknight game set aside from the Big 12 & Pac-12 is the USC at Colorado game.  

FOX Sports 1, in addition to the Gavitt Tipoff, also has NASCAR Truck series races on the first three Fridays in November.  The race on 11/13 is from Phoenix, so that race could conceivably follow a basketball game on FS1.  Note that the last time FOX tried that was their first MBK game on FS1 between Boston College & Providence, which started at 6pm ET & went to OT, pushing the Truck prerace show to FS2 & possibly part of the race (sorry, those brain cells are gone).

Anyways, USC at Colorado seems to be destined for one of the ESPN networks.  Probably ESPN2 if the NBA on ESPN is on the schedule.  Having the Gavitt Tipoff games the following week could be problematic with FS1 because of the truck race on 11/20 in the eastern time zone (Homestead).

Friday, January 9, 2015

A few items on the early CFB schedule for 2015

Was looking over the first few weeks of the college football schedule for 2015.  Should be noted that it is far from complete.  A few items noticed by others and me:

* As you may know, ESPN will have US Open tennis coverage starting in 2015.  The press release notes the following:

  • All day coverage over Labor Day weekend, including Saturday 9/5
  • Women's semifinals on 2nd Thursday (9/10), presumably at night
  • Men's semfinals on 2nd Friday (9/11), again presumably at night
  • Women's final in mid-afternoon on Saturday 9/12
I don't think there is a big impact to ESPN's college football programming on the first Saturday.  The schedule, as currently composed, doesn't have a great deal of compelling games.  They don't really need to overcompensate with an extra ABC window, for example.  ESPN may try to spread out their schedule as much as possible over four days, including Sunday.

As for 9/10, that would be the opening night of the NFL season.  The last couple years ESPN has had US Open quarterfinal matches against the NFL opening night, so they had dueling coverage on ESPN & ESPN2.  Now that it is just the semifinal matches, one of their channels may free up and they could go back to airing a football game this evening.

Something that also can be factored in is that the US Open, in terms of programming hours, can be considered a partial replacement of the NASCAR races that ESPN would have aired in previous years.

* FOX has conflicts related to NASCAR, UFC and MLB throughout the year

  • UFC has four PPVs tentatively scheduled and three FOX Sports 1 Saturday Fight Nights though football.  FS1 typically carries the prelim matches for the PPVs, though on occassion they can be shown on FS2.
  • Both FOX and FS1 should have one MLB window per Saturday through 10/3, with the playoff windows to be determined in September.
  • NASCAR trucks will have four Friday night races, one in September & three in November, along with three Saturday races.
* 9/12 represents an interesting Saturday for the SEC and possibly CBS.  With this being a regular season mostly built into thirteen week with the fourteenth week hosting the SEC Championship game, CBS could air ten singleheaders and two doubleheaders (one 12pm-3:30pm doubleheader & one at 3:30pm-8pm).  With three intraconference games, plus Oklahoma at Tennessee, there is plenty of good SEC content to go around.  

In other words, I can envision CBS passing on the 9/5 SEC schedule (it isn't great and ESPN has the neutral site games), but carrying a game each week after that.  And I don't think they have to give up a doubleheader to do it.

* Briefly looked over the American Athletic Conference's non-conference schedule.  My expectation is that you will see one or two conference games on 9/12, provided the schools' non-conference schedules stay as is (some schools have not placed dates on each game).  I would expect Navy to play a conference game on 9/12 due to the way their non-conference schedule is spread out.

* The available games for the Big 12 & Pac-12 on 9/12 are a bit uninspiring.  This is the time of year where networks work to make schedules a bit more favorable to themselves.  I could see FOX looking to move, say, a Big 12 conference game to 9/12 and move games over to 9/26, a week that is a bit lighter on the schedule.  Since it would be non-conference games moving from 9/12, that requires of a dance with either FCS schools or other FBS conferences.