Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Notes on the Future for the Big Ten and FOX Sports

A few items I found interesting about the Big Ten's potential rights agreement with FOX Sports, reported by Sports Business Journal.  Liberal use of the words "potential", "presumably" and "potentially" are by design in the notes below because the 2nd part of the primary rights are still available to other bidders.

* $250 million per year is a big number for 25 football games, 50 men's basketball games and, presumably, some women's basketball, Olympics sports, etc.  Consider that the Pac-12 will be paid in 2019 slightly north of $250 million combined from FOX and ESPN for 45 football games (44 regular season games & the conference championship game) and 68 men's basketball games (65 regular season games & three conference tournament games), per the term sheet entered as evidence as part of the Ed O'Bannon vs. NCAA lawsuit.

* Remember that the Big 12 had some fairly low guarantees in their TV deal with respect to the number of games that a FOX broadcast network and a national cable outlet had to carry on a yearly basis: Six games a year on each platform.  So after those 12 games, plus the 23 earmarked for ESPN, both FSN and FS2 could reap the rewards of additional football games.  FOX, potentially, has a full year to ramp up carriage of FS2 if this is where they plan to add some of these football games.  I'm not as big on F/X taking on any of these games since FOX didn't get everything that ESPN has today.

If more Big 12 games move to FSN, the conference that is hurt is C-USA, who is trying to wrap up rights for next athletic year and had around 13-20 games per year on FSN.  Mitch Vingle noted that FOX apparently did not bid for C-USA football, but also had sources who seemed to believe the Big Ten would be disappointed when taking their rights to the market.  If the SBJ numbers are right, $250 million per year for half the available content is 2.5X what they were making in the previous deal for all of the available content ($100 million/year from ESPN).  That doesn't yet strike me as a number to be disappointed at.

* The synergy between the Big Ten and Big East will ramp up in men's basketball.  FOX will have the potential to control all eight of the Gavitt Games each season with four on FS1 through the Big East and the prospects of all four on FS1 & BTN on the Big Ten side.   The 2018 men's basketball tournament at MSG, during the first athletic year of the new agreement, will be held the week before the Big East tournament, leading to a large part of two weeks of premium conference tournament play potentially on FOX platforms.  Conversely, how does this affect the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, or does it?  ESPN and FOX Sports split the Big 12 - Pac-12 challenge series before it ended due to conference realignment in 2011, so there is precedent for two TV partners sharing an event based on conference media rights.

CBS's sublicense for the Big East allows for up to 30 games a year for CBS and CBS Sports Network.  FOX has sent 20 their way so far.  Maybe that increases.

* Per the article, the Big Ten seems willing, and desires, to sell some rights to digital media companies if the price is right.  The Pac-12 discussed things with digital media outlets, but they didn't have the "safety net" of BTN already in place, instead using those rights to create the Pac-12 Networks.  The Big Ten is in the catbird seat to make a splash with a few events.

If we take the 25 football games and 50 men's basketball games, assume a 2nd TV partner gets an equal size package of games and use the numbers from the 2015-16 athletic year for events on ESPN and CBS (58 football games, 119 men's basketball games including conference tourney games on both networks), a digital package of eight football games and 15-20 men's basketball games in possible, maybe in conjunction with the BTN+ subscription package.

* For ABC & ESPN, this frees up space to air games from other conferences, moving games up from ESPN to ABC, ESPN2 to ESPN, ESPNU to ESPN2, etc., plus the addition of four Big 12 games starting this season.  There's also a chance that ESPN won't replace every telecast window lost on ABC, for example, and go back to only select weeks with tripleheaders.  Allegedly, there is also a decision to be made regarding an ACC branded television channel and whether ESPN would simply pay an upgraded rights fees instead of starting the channel.

* The Chicago Tribune, citing SBJ, says that CBS wants to keep its package of Big Ten basketball games, but I can't for the life of me find where that was said in the article.  Maybe it was in the context of CBS being a bidder on the remaining Big Ten primary package.

* Dan Wolken of USA Today pointed out a huge item regarding the length of the deal at six years: It allows the Big Ten to go to the market again. Instead of using a "look-in", which was how the SEC was able to get the SEC Network off the ground, the Big Ten can do the following:

1) Go back to the market to get more money in a short period of time compared to other rightsholders
2) Potentially dump any partner that may not be favorable to them with respect to production or other issues, such as scheduling.
3) Not be stuck with a rightsholder who, technologically, can't deliver games to the masses in the ways we could be consuming them in less than a decade.

An end date of 2022-23 allows the conference to go back to the market a year before the Pac-12 for both ESPN and FOX & the SEC on CBS (ending 2023-24) and two years before the Big 12 (2024-25).  For pro sports, they may also be out in the market at the same time as Major League Baseball, a FOX Sports property, has their agreement end after the 2021 season and the NFL (2022).  They should be in the market ahead of NASCAR (2024) and the NBA (2024-25).


Darrell McKown said...

When you consider that FOX may end up essentially surrendering the opening week of college football this year to ESPN, it becomes more apparent that they had to do something if they want to be a real player in college football. I could have seen a scenario where they bid for the entire package, although that would have required them to get very aggressive on the broadcast network and have been able to put 15-20 B1G games on FS2, which the conference may not have allowed.

At $250 million for about half the football inventory available, I would think FOX is getting first choice in the selection process. You could see a scenario where they put a B1G game on nearly every week in the 3:30 time slot, with either a Big 12 or Pac-12 game in prime time, which covers all their broadcast network requirements for those conferences. During September, they can mix in an MLB game on FOX at 1:00, and then go B1G (noon), Big 12 (3:30), MLB (7:00) and Pac-12 (10:00) on FS1.

Matt Sarzyniak said...

I'm a bit curious to see how much more leeway FOX has with respect to MLB. This year seven FS1 games will air on days of the week other than Saturdays. They'll still have a handful of NASCAR Truck Series races to maneuver around too, but only 3-4 fall on Saturdays. They'll also have to be flexible around MLB postseason.

They'll still have UFC commitments for at least another couple years too and they'd be slightly foolish to dump it since it is some of their highest rating programming.

Darrell McKown said...

If you assume one B1G game on FOX per week, then you would be left with 11 B1G games for FS1, along with 14 Pac-12 games and as few as six Big 12 games. Now assume that six of the Pac-12/Big 12 games are on Thursday or Black Friday, and you only have 25 Saturday games left for FS1, or a little under two per week. I would think that would leave them plenty of room for MLB, UFC, etc.

In fact, FOX can create all the Saturday space they most likely need on FS1 by moving some of the excess Big 12 games they carried over the minimum to FS2 or FSN (and they likely wouldn't need to create the space solely at the expense of the Big 12).