Sunday, August 23, 2009

Conference TV Contract: The Big Ten

The Big Ten is one of the most straight-forward contracts around when it comes to multiple network coordination and maximization of exposure. In short, if its at a Big Ten stadium, it is virtually guaranteed to be televised coast to coast.

The Big Ten accelerated the arms race among BCS conferences in the summer of 2006, signing a new ten year deal with ABC and ESPN for the broadcasting of college football, along with a new partnership with Fox Cable Networks called the Big Ten Network.

ABC gets the 1st choice of games every week. Most of these games air at 3:30pm ET and ABC gets up to 17 games per season. A unique quirk about the ABC games is that they have to air in some form of national distribution when they air at 3:30pm. So if a game airs as part of regional distribution on ABC, it has to air on ESPN or ESPN2 to the rest of the nation. This is known as a "reverse mirror" game. I wrote about these briefly in the ACC analysis. Note that this does not apply to games aired on ABC in the 8pm ET. Those games, unlike the 3:30pm ET games, are available on ESPN Game Plan for those not receiving them on ABC.

ESPN & ESPN2 get up to 25 national telecasts and most of those games air at 12pm ET. Because of the way the Big Ten schedules itself currently, they tend to dominate this time slot for most of the regular season until Thanksgiving weekend. ESPN Classic also can choose Big Ten games.

Fox Cable Networks and the Big Ten created the Big Ten Network in 2007 to take the place of games that were televised on ESPNU & ESPN Regional Television, plus games that were exclusively streamed on ESPN360. The Big Ten Network partnership is a 25 year partnership with the Big Ten owning 51% of the network but ceding Fox the day-to-day operations of the network, so it will eclipse the existing ABC/ESPN contract by fifteen seasons. After initial struggles with distribution, the network hits close to 35 million households nationwide. The Big Ten Network essentially owns the inventory of Big Ten games, but can leapfrog ESPN and ESPN2 on occasion. Every Big Ten team must appear on the BTN at least twice and one of those appearances must be a conference game. Initially, some games were not available in HD due to the lack of available HD production trucks, but starting in 2009, all games will be in HD.

Two scheduling quirks are unique to the Big Ten. The conference requests a minimal number of night game selections and none after the last Saturday of October. Many of the schools do not have permanent lighting (ie. Michigan, Ohio St.) and require advance notice so that arrangements can be made to bring temporary lighting in. Also, many schools complete their seasons without a bye week. Starting in 2010, the conference will allow its members to schedule conference games during Thanksgiving weekend and possibly into December. This will allow the Big Ten teams to schedule bye weeks during seasons where 12 games are scheduled over 14 weeks (currently most Big Ten teams schedule 12 straight weeks of games unless they play an OOC game after the Big Ten season is complete).

In short, the Big Ten's place on ABC & ESPN is secure and the Big Ten Network distribution allows for the conference to bring in unprecedented amounts of revenues, supposedly even more than the money that the SEC is now bringing in with their new CBS and ESPN deals. National distribution of virtually every game, the quality of HD telecasts wherever you go and the sound of a cash register bringing in the money means the Big Ten will be there every Saturday and easy to find.


Mark said...

Your distribution numbers are off. Today they are pushing 75 million homes.

Mark said...

Q: Who can get the Big Ten Network?

A: The Big Ten Network is available to up to 73 million homes nationwide. The Big Ten Network is available across North America on satellite providers such as DIRECTV, DISH Network and Star Choice (Canada), telco companies such as Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-Verse, and on cable in 22 of America's top 25 media markets

Matt Sarzyniak said...

Thanks Mark. I swear I looked at the same page to get 35 million. Must have been cached on my laptop.

Mattu said...

I didn't realize that ESPN Classic could choose a game. Do you know under what circumstances ESPN can do this? I only remember one game (maybe NW) on Classic but that was a while ago. I'm assuming that Classic was choosen over ESPNU b/c of where the 2 channels stood tier-wise but now that ESPN and the cable/sat carries have traded Classic for ESPNU, I wonder how or if this clause is affected.

Matt Sarzyniak said...

Great question. I'll see what I can find out. But in prior seasons, ESPN Classic was used if both ESPN and ESPN2 were not available to pick up Big Ten games. In both 2007 and 2008, two games were picked up on Classic.

For 2008, an ACC game (UNC-Miami) pushed NU-Iowa to Classic on 9/27 and a Big 12 early game (TX Tech-Kansas) pushed Minnesota-Purdue on 10/27.

In 2007, ABC did not pick up a Big Ten game at 3:30pm and Minnesota-Michigan aired on Classic except in Detroit where it was on ABC on 10/25. On 11/10, IU-NU aired on Classic where Wake-Clemson pushed it down.

I'm going to say that they could air a game on Classic if they deemed it necessary, but I'd expect it to be limited to only a couple times per season.

Matt Sarzyniak said...

Note, also on 10/25/07, that may have been Breeders Cup weekend. ESPN did not air a 12pm game that day. ESPN2 had a 12pm game (MSU-IA) and the BTN had three (Ball St.-Ill, NU-PU, IU-WI).

Unknown said...

The BTN is available to more than 75 million potential subscribers but only 35-40 million are actual subscribers. Recall that BTN is largely distributed on sports tiers (except for DIRECTV, FIOS and U-verse) outside the Big Ten footprint states (WI, MN, IA, IL, MI, IN, OSU, PA). Sports tier penetration rates range from 5 to 35%