Monday, January 14, 2019

Big 12 Football Championship Game Rights Leaving FOX Sports

Sports Business Journal reported this morning that FOX Sports had given up their rights to the Big 12 football championship games, not just in future odd numbered seasons, but this coming season (2019).  The publication's First Look podcast noted two items were in play:

1) The cost of the game to FOX, reported to be in the $20 million range, didn't justify the return FOX could get for carrying the game. EDIT: a separate SBJ piece for their Daily publication notes that FOX gained the rights to the 2017 game only through mediation involving conference expansion that didn't occur.

2) Scheduling.  I'll go into this one in further details.

So let's handle this Q&A style:

What are the scheduling concerns that I see?

When the game came on the market and was listed as rotating between ESPN and FOX, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby mentioned several times that Friday night was a potential time slot for the game, subject to AT&T Stadium availability.  Go figure, the Cowboys playing Thursday night games at home the Thursday after Thanksgiving, the day before a Friday championship game (a week after Black Friday), may have cut into that stadium availability.  Sports Business Journal mentioned Friday was a non-starter in their podcast, but that's incorrect based on the history of trying to set the 2017 date.

Another hit to the possibility of a Friday night game on FOX is the start of WWE Smackdown in 2019.  Assuming FOX is hooked to airing Smackdown only on the broadcast network, that would leave FS1 as your broadcast outlet, which might have been less palatable to the conference.

(And yes, that could be a concern for the Pac-12 in future years, though if they aren't concerned about TV ratings & want better attendance, Saturday might be ideal)

So we keep it anchored to Saturday with FOX, who has the Big Ten championship on their broadcast network in primetime through 2022, so the Big 12 is locked out of a nighttime game unless its FS1.  Play alongside the SEC championship in the afternoon?  Seems like a losing proposition compared to 12pm ET, which I know fans of the conference dislike.

Financials didn't work for FOX?

I guess not.  Without parroting everything from the First Look podcast linked in the first paragraph, FOX sought to have their payout decreased, maybe in exchange for guaranteeing the early afternoon slot on the broadcast network or for the game to air on FS1 at night (I know neither of these things to be factual, so take those with a grain of salt).  It sounds like the minimum the Big 12 would take for a rights fee was still too much for FOX to pay.

The 2017 game had a 3.8 rating for FOX (Oklahoma vs. TCU).  It had a 6.2 for Texas vs. Oklahoma, and maybe FOX looks at that as a barometer for what the game can get on its best matchup & everything else being less than that for the cost it pays.

Both ratings numbers came from Sports Media Watch.

Where's the game going to air?

ESPN was the leader per Sports Business Journal.  I tend to believe that & the rights in even numbered years already reside here too.  They can play around with putting it in primetime at the same time as the ACC championship, flexing both games based on the matchup to air on ESPN or ABC.  This used to happen with the Big 12 when they had regular season games up against the ACC championship.  Compared to the perceptions of a game moving from FOX to FS1, a game moving between ABC & ESPN has a less negative perception.  That option could end up relegating the Mountain West over to ESPN2 for the final championship game of their current agreement.

If ESPN elects to stay with their current agreement & not add these games, maybe CBS would enter the picture, but I'm not picturing that scenario.

What's FOX going to air that Saturday?

College basketball seems likely.  They had around 400K-700K viewers for a tripleheader of Big East & Pac-12 games this year per ShowBuzzDaily.  That's a time of the year where they now schedule the opening of Big Ten intraconference play, so maybe they can get a matchup for the broadcast network like they did in 2017 with Ohio St. vs. Wisconsin before the conference's football championship game.  That one got over a million viewers.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

2019 College Football Scheduling Notes

* So far, only Arizona at Hawai'i is scheduled for "Week 0".  And since 12 games can be played over 14 weeks this year, the need for "Week 0" is greatly diminished.  That said, the following FBS schools could end up moving a game to "Week 0" and/or adding a 13th game:

Oregon St.
Army
Air Force
Fresno St.
San Diego St.
San Jose St.

The game being moved does not have to be a home game for these schools.  In my opinion, Army is the least likely to make any moves since their schedule already stretches over 16 weeks when the Army-Navy game is accounted for.

* Ohio St. at Northwestern was moved to a Friday, October 18, 2019 and in my opinion, that one will be an ESPN televised game for a couple reasons:
  1. It is right in the middle of FOX's MLB postseason coverage.  It would fall right around the Game 6-7 area of the American League Division Services, which should be on FS1.
  2. FOX broadcast network will be on its 3rd week of airing of WWE Smackdown, which starts at the beginning of October. 
It gives ESPN a nice game with a flagship college football school to counterprogram with.  If you look closer at that week, you'll see that both the Big 12 (TCU at Kansas St.) and Pac-12 (UCLA at Stanford) have Thursday night games that week.  Both conferences have a full compliment of games on Saturday 10/19 too.  Don't know if that means ESPN is going to take all three games that week because they'll have several selections from those conferences & FOX could be limited in the number of TV windows.

Penn St. at Maryland (9/27) and Iowa at Nebraska (11/29, Black Friday) are the other intraconference Big Ten games being played on a weekday/weeknight.  South Dakota St. at Minnesota, Tulsa at Michigan St. & UMass at Rutgers are being played on weeknights as well.

* The ACC Network received a pair of selections to start 2019, with Georgia Tech at Clemson on Thursday 8/29 and Notre Dame at Duke on Saturday 11/9.  For those who avidly pay attention to TV ratings of sporting events, the ACC Network might fall into the same camp as the SEC Network, which is not rated nationally by Nielsen.

* Interesting conundrum for CBS for the upcoming season with the choice of their primetime CBS game.  Will it be on 9/21, where Notre Dame at Georgia is an option, or will they stay with the Saturday that LSU at Alabama falls (11/9)?  I feel the setup is better for a doubleheader on 9/21 with five SEC intraconference games plus Notre Dame at Georgia, where 11/9 has only three SEC games plus LSU at Alabama.

* The following agreements, either rights or sublicenses, ended at the end of the 2018 regular season and I'm not aware of any continuation of these agreements at this time:
  • MAC on CBS Sports Network
    • Twelve games sublicensed from ESPN
  • Conference USA on beIN Sports
  • ESPN sublicense of SEC games to CBS
    • Two game sublicense from ESPN.  
    • Existing rights for SEC on CBS is a separate deal.
* The following rights agreements expire after the 2019 season:
* FOX has swapped its UFC commitments in exchange for Premier Boxing Champions events, with potentially less conflicts.  Two Saturdays will have FS1 cards: 9/21 & 11/9.  Both dates happen to have a Pac-12 game scheduled for the Friday night before.  Sunday 9/1 also has a PBC card scheduled for FOX.  It isn't known if the card is in the afternoon or evening (we don't really know anything about the time of day about any of the cards), so FOX could still request a game for the Sunday of Labor Day weekend.

One other FOX Sports commitment, besides MLB which will shape the September schedule & we'll know more about in the next 6-10 weeks, is they should have coverage of the Walker Cup on one of their platforms.  The event is in England in 2019, so some of the coverage would be outside of the coverage time of college football, but there could be some overlap in the early afternoon.  In 2017, FS1 carried the event in the early afternoon & early evening hours, leaving one college football game to air on FS2. (EDIT: Walker Cup 2019, since it is R&A hosted, has its rights with NBC).

* MLB has released FOX & FS1 static windows (ie. the ones where they select a game in advance).  8/31 has one game at 6pm & 9/7 has a pair of games after 4pm.

* ESPN, on the other hand, has scheduled three four (EDIT:  Q1 release table has ESPN+ for 3/30 but paragraphs identify it as ESPN) of its ten linear TV UFC Fight Night over the first six months of 2019 (Q1 & Q2).  They might pack more of those Fight Night cards into Q3, specifically July & August, but in September-November I would think they would have some PPV prelims plus 1-2 Fight Night cards with more ESPN+ cards in the fall.  Would assume the same applies to any Top Rank commitments ESPN would have over the final six months.  For those events it will be interesting to see how they schedule games around these multi-hour event slots.