Saturday, December 30, 2017

Looking Forward to the 2018-19 Collegiate Athletic Year

I rounded up a few items that I felt would be worth keeping an eye on coming into the 2018-19 college athletics year with respect to television & scheduling.  I did note a handful of items with respect to early season selections and I'll do more in-depth items on those later in the winter.

Here we go:

FOX Sports RSNs moving to Disney

For the 2018 season, I don't think you're going to see a dramatic shift in operations at least right away as the timetable for the sale of assets from 21st Century FOX to Disney appears to be at least 12-18 months, which should take the sale's completion well past the end of the season.  It could have more of a potential impact in the area of college basketball.

With that said, FOX Sports might look to seed a few more college football & basketball games on FS2 instead of FSN where they can, potentially preparing for a RSN-less future.

Conference USA back to the negotiating table

Conference USA is heading back to the market with most of their rights as their deals with ESPN, CBS Sports Network and Stadium all expire in the spring of 2018.

John Ourand of Sports Business Daily, in his predictions for 2018, noted that the Mountain West might be the first to jump more towards streaming, but I could certainly see C-USA beating them to the punch.  The conference will have 18 men's basketball games on Facebook out of 33 games that Stadium is producing.

More breathing room on CBS Sports Network?

At the moment, Navy's home football games have reverted back to the inventory the American provides to ESPN, with the exception of the "home" game vs. Notre Dame that CBS retained an option to carry in 2018, which if CBS were to carry is virtually certain to be a night game unless they were allowed to carry the game on CBS Sports Network due to the game's location in 2018 (San Diego) and the fact that the game is the same day as Georgia vs. Florida (10/27/18), which CBS is more likely than not to carry & must be played in the afternoon.

Getting back to Navy, ESPN now holds the rights to those games, but at this moment, the sublicense of American games to CBS Sports Network has not increased in the number of games (up to 15 games per season), so CBSSN could end up doing any of the following:
  1. Increase the number of American games they sublicense from ESPN
  2. Take a few of the Mountain West games that typically air at 10pm or 10:30pm ET and move them to earlier time slots where appropriate
  3. Offer some of those slots to Conference USA during rights negotiations
  4. Use more of the sublicensed MAC games from ESPN on Saturdays instead of weeknights, though that is dependent on the MAC schedule composition.
Another place to keep an eye on at CBS & CBS Sports Network: Big East scheduling.  Their agreement with FOX Sports for the Big East ends after the 2018-19 athletic year.  The reconstruction of FOX Sports under a few less outlets could put a focus on this agreement and whether FOX will keep more of these games for their outlets (FOX, FS1, FS2) or move more games to CBS Sports Network as scheduling permits as today's agreement allows for up to 30 games total to CBS & CBSSN (up to five games on CBS).

Final season of Raycom Sports' ACC Network

Raycom's ACC sublicense ends after the 2018-19 athletic year, with most of their content expected to populate the ESPN operated ACC Network.  With the agreement with Altice for carriage of the ACC Network, look for some initial ramp-up in terms of awareness towards consumers that this content is moving elsewhere and that you'll need a new channel in 2019 to see it.

To be honest, I don't have any sense of what Raycom could invest in or stay involved with as a primary producer of college sports.  I believe they own a fair amount of production equipment and could stay involved in providing production support to regional entities and the ACC Network as needed.  Frankly, ESPN could make use of that support once they take in the FOX Sports RSNs.

Random stuff

* Oklahoma is unique out of all the Big 12 schools in that their member retained game ends up on pay-per-view.  I do wonder if either FOX Sports or ESPN will want the opener vs. FAU for their national packages while having to designate the game as member retained (I don't see this happening for the UCLA game).

FAU at Oklahoma also happens to be the only Big 12 controlled game in Week One that involves two FBS schools.

* I think ESPN will figure out how to keep all of those SEC neutral site games during Week One.  They've already moved LSU vs. Miami (FL) to Sunday.  I think they could air two each on ABC & ESPN.  With that said upfront, I think it would leave CBS without a sublicensed SEC game for this particular week and they'd end up taking one of those selections later in the season, similar to what they did in 2017.

If ESPN were to determine that they can't air one of those games, in my opinion, the Chick-Fil-A game in Atlanta, which has previously been sublicensed to CBS, or the Tennessee vs. West Virginia game in Charlotte would be targets to move.  ESPN Events has a stake in both the Advocare Texas Kickoff in Houston & the Camping World Kickoff in Orlando.  Because of those stakes, I think those are less likely to air outside of ABC or ESPN Networks.

* Both Arizona & Arizona St. are at home on 9/1, hosting BYU & UTSA, respectively.  If neither FOX nor ESPN is interested in either of those games, look for one of them to move their game to Thursday or Friday evening.  Both schools strongly prefer night games in September and the Pac-12 Networks do not have the space to provide them to be played concurrently.

* For a pair of items that rotate on a yearly basis, ESPN has the Big 12 Championship and, I believe, the top priority pick in the Pac-12, where FOX has the Pac-12 Championship and the top choice of which week they want to select first in the Big 12.

I think FOX will use the top Big 12 choice on the week of the Red River Rivalry and maybe attempt to pair it with a NLDS game like they tried in 2016 (the MLB game ended up be rained out), but I look at picking 2nd on 9/15 (either USC at Texas or Ohio St. vs. TCU from Jerry's World) as valuable too.  As for the Pac-12, Notre Dame at USC looks like the most valuable non-conference game, so after that your guess is as good as any.  USC at Arizona (9/29, Khalil Tate vs. defending Pac-12 champs) & UCLA at Oregon (11/3, Chip Kelly's return to Eugene) seem like they'll have good storylines attached to them

* I'm also interested to see if ESPN is working to move one of their conference championship games to Friday night.  Will the MAC move back to Friday?  I expect the Big 12 Championship on ABC, so that would in theory leave the American on ESPN, unless a tripleheader was attempted and any tripleheader would mean a game opposite the SEC Championship on CBS.

The Sun Belt adding a championship game to the mix isn't as big of a deal though as they've had games on Championship Saturday on ESPN2 the last two seasons, so they can be worked into the mix.

And all of this math assumes a place for the C-USA Championship on ESPN or ESPN2 which I suppose isn't guaranteed.

* For games scheduled for weeknights outside of Labor Day weekend, there's a lot to be announced and those will come out as schedules appear for 2018 from the ACC, American and Mountain West.  My initial impression is that ESPN will have Texas Tech at TCU on Thursday 10/11, Arizona at Utah on Friday 10/12 & Stanford at Arizona St. on Thursday 10/18 due to FS1's MLB postseason commitments.  While FS1 could conceivable not have MLB those days, I don't think they can count on it, nor count on the possibility of weather related issues changing dates/times.

* The two new FBS independents, Liberty and New Mexico St., both have a wealth of experience when it comes to being able to produce their own telecasts in football.  Liberty has had their Liberty Flames Sports Network and New Mexico St.'s AggieVision has been around since their time in the WAC and through one independent season before they moved to the Sun Belt.  Both productions regularly made it to ESPN3 along with RSNs.  I'd expect that to continue.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Some Thoughts on FSN Content Promotion & A Reversal Of Sorts

While driving towards my holiday destination yesterday, I elected to listen to the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast, because my drive was close to the length of the podcast (intelligent speed on the Podcast Addict app cut down some of the time).

And either Kyle Costner or Andrew Bucholtz (sorry, don't remember which one) made an extremely valid point regarding the sale of the FOX Sports Regional Networks to Disney.  Paraphrasing, one of them mentioned that FOX really wasn't very good at integrating them into the national business of FS1 and FOX broadcast network.

And if it wasn't foggy, I would have clapped it out for that point but I needed to hang onto the wheel.

To be clear, my frame of reference on this particular topic is from about 2004 forward, so I can't say how the national MLB package was promoted before that time, but when it came to national programming investments for FSN, I personally never felt it got the proper, or any, promotion from the big brothers.  From my own recollections, which get worse every day, the only time I can recall ever seeing any type of FSN promotion on "Big FOX" was a men's basketball tripleheader they carried where three of the top five ranked teams in the nation (#5 Duke, #2 North Carolina & #1 UCLA) would be playing on Sunday, New Year's Eve in 2006 on FSN.

That's it, and this is a network chain that had a pair of highly coveted pro tennis events for a two year stretch (Indian Wells & Miami).  Those events couldn't wait to get away from FSN fast enough and paid for time on ESPN instead.

So when it came to promoting anything on FSN, I can see where it was a bit tough for FOX to do it and four things came to mind:

  • Not every RSN affiliated with FOX Sports Net was actually owned by FOX or carried the FOX Sports Net branding.  
  • It isn't realistic to promote something that could conceivably not air on the RSN in your area where something could preempt the programming.  Regional pro sports typically trumped the college sports FSN carried.  In a few cases with Comcast SportsNets, they often aired their nightly news program & would join whatever live event FSN was airing in progress
  • The FOX Sports branding itself didn't appear on a lot of the national programming
    • ACC Sunday Night Hoops didn't always use the FSN logo on the score bar or bug and the mic flags often carried the conference's logo, which continues to this day, albeit the arrangement that FOX receives its ACC content from is a bit different
    • There was a five or six year stretch where the FSN branding disappeared from content like the national college football they carried, where they went with the branding of "College Football Saturday" and "(Insert Conference Name Here) Hoops".  That branding ended right around the time Comcast RSNs elected to stop carrying FSN programming and the return of on-air FOX Sports branding.
  • After Comcast RSNs stopped carrying FSN programming, the network really ceased to be national.  Arrangements have been made to carry FOX Sports Networks programming in non-FSN markets as needed (football briefly aired on local stations in San Francisco,  Boston & Washington, DC and has a few working arrangements for Big East basketball), but there was no point to try to promote what wasn't going to be available outside of FSN affiliated areas on FOX College Sports, a local station or through online means.
Now here comes a reversal of what I believed earlier when it comes to content from the Big East & Big 12 "national" contracts that they showed on FSN: While they don't own those regional networks anymore, they might find it easier to distribute that content.  They might have to go back to being a bit nameless or faceless when it comes to the branding (ie. "Big 12 Football", or something similar to the RSNs airing WCC basketball), but it could be easier to be a distributor of those games to AT&T, ESPN, Comcast & other independent RSNs, if they don't want to keep them for themselves to add to FS1 or FS2.  They can put those games out for bid if they want.  They aren't having to make a deal with Comcast for backdrop programming on the NBC Sports RSNs, they're just selling a two hour window for a college basketball game or a three hour, 30 minute window for a football game, which they do now for Big East basketball as mentioned above.  Work out the digital distribution to keep it within FOX Sports Go and figure something out if an RSN group wants to stream it (they probably will).

And the promotion of these events on RSNs, which FOX wasn't really good at, isn't something they need to worry about.  They just need to distribute as widely as possible.

Any thoughts on this?  I'd be curious to hear what you think.  Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Implications on College Sports Content if FOX Were to Sell Their RSNs

If you've not heard, 21st Century FOX is working on a sale of assets to Disney.  Some of those assets include portions of FOX Sports, specifically their regional sports network group.  A few things that came up with respect to college sports content that airs there.

* Some content is contracted directly to the individual regional sports networks.  Think of things like Saint Louis men's basketball on FOX Sports Midwest & Big West sports on the group of RSNs in southern California.  Assuming the RSNs are sold, I would think that those contracts would be included in the sale.

One place where this affects FOX Sports' national college sports portfolio is the Big 12.  Five schools have contracts with FOX Sports RSNs to air at least one football game per season and other content that the school elects to produce for television:

FOX Sports Southwest or Oklahoma
Oklahoma St.
Texas Tech

FOX Sports gets to define the member retained football game for all ten schools each year, which is a bit interesting because they're defining the game that would currently air on RSNs.  If they don't own those contracts (at that point, FOX Sports would not own 3rd tier rights to any Big 12 schools while ESPN could own those five plus Texas through Longhorn Network+), would FOX Sports be able to call the shots on what games were defined as 3rd tier?

+Kansas St. & Kansas also have existing working arrangements with ESPN3, with some content airing locally on linear TV through partnerships with other networks and outside the defined local area on ESPN3.

* The ACC maintains a big presence on FOX RSNs through a sublicense from Raycom, as Raycom own rights to both a regional cable package & over the air syndication package, but that content will move to the ESPN-owned ACC Network in the late summer of 2019.

* Some content on FOX Sports RSNs are tied to national TV contracts with FOX Sports.  Most likely this content would not move with these RSNs to ESPN, unless ESPN were to come to an agreement to have FOX provide this content to them.  This content is as follows:
  • Big 12 women's basketball
    • Some Big 12 women's basketball airing on RSNs comes from the 3rd tier school packages.
  • A package of "Olympic" / non-revenue sports from the Big 12, including championships in baseball, softball, etc.
  • Big East sports, particularly men's basketball
Where would this content go to is anyone's guess, assuming it doesn't follow the RSNs.  It could end up on FS1 or FS2.  Maybe there's a push for this content to move exclusively to FOX Sports Go.  CBS Sports has a sublicense for Big East basketball that calls for 20-30 games.  So far, the number has been at 20 each year.

* Where does BTN fall in this equation?  I believe it is managed separately from the FOX Sports RSNs.  FOX Sports Media Group defines BTN as its own entity, separate from the RSNs, FS1, FS2, etc..  Doesn't mean it couldn't be part of the sale though.

* FOX College Sports is listed under the FOX Sports umbrella, but if they sold the RSNs & the underlying content to ESPN, there would be very little for that suite of channels to air.