Monday, February 28, 2011

C-USA, ESPN, CBS and FOX: Why its Important to Read a Contract

Sports Business Journal came out with an article today detailing how ESPN and CBS were unhappy with Conference USA's recent right deal with FOX Sports Media Group.  The article notes that ESPN feels that they were not provided with a right of 1st refusal on FOX's offer and CBS is upset that they were not provided the chance to pick up ESPN's portion of C-USA rights.  Let's examine relevant portions of this issue:

Right of First Refusal
From Wikipedia (who I hate using as a source, but oh well) -

Basically ESPN, in the existing contract that expires at the end of June of 2011 because college contracts tend to run on the athletic calendar cycle (July-June), is asserting that they had the ability to match any offer that C-USA was going to consider.  I don't believe FOX's offer is one they could have matched, particularly in the number of games and in the scheduling area, where ESPN previously aired many C-USA games on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays where FOX was going to keep Thursday night games as an option, but not schedule the other weeknights.  ESPN could have matched the money aspect of the conference without breaking a sweat.

What we don't know is the terms of the Right of First Refusal.  That right is negotiatiable and is not black/white in terms of what constitutes that right.  Does ESPN have to respond to C-USA within a period of time?  Do they have to match all terms or just the money?

CBS was upset because they didn't get a chance to get in on ESPN's portion of the rights because it appears that ESPN was still negotiating with C-USA up until two weeks before the FOX agreement was announced.  When CBS announced that it had negotiated a rights agreement with C-USA, the press release was vague and did not include any game guarantees.  My opinion is that wording was intentional with the hope that an ESPN agreement could fall through.  But since CBS will be compensated with extra live games for CBS Sports Network, their anger seems to have subsided.

Doesn't appear that they did anything wrong here.  Don't believe they induced C-USA to breach the contract with ESPN and negotiated in good faith.  They provided a better offer than ESPN, according to C-USA, both financially and coverage wise.

Here's a brief write up on the deal.

The lesson here is not to screw with ESPN's lawyers.  I'm not convinced that they want to have the C-USA rights back unless its on their terms, which in my opinion not at the level that FOX agreed to.  I see ESPN sending a message to other conferences that their rights and contracts must be lived up to.  If they sue, I'm not sure I'd want C-USA back if C-USA isn't a willing partner.  But I do want them and others to know that the contract must be lived up to.

ESPN's posture does give the impression that they are "Big Brother" or the "800 lb. gorilla", but they have a valid point.  Bottom line: ESPN knows their contractual rights and they'll assert that they be met.

They screwed up.  If ESPN and FOX were brought into meetings to discuss "game sharing" after the FOX deal was agreed upon, C-USA is essentially acknowleding that they didn't provide the proper legal notifications to ESPN in my mind. Otherwise they wouldn't bother with ESPN and continue working with FOX and CBS.  Whomever was in charge of the C-USA negotiations had to know that ESPN required the ability to match an offer.  If that right was ignored, they have a problem.  They, not FOX or any other entity, could have to compensate ESPN if this determined to be a breach of contract.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Week Three Guesses

LSU at Mississippi St., ESPN 8pm (confirmed)

Iowa St. at Connecticut, ESPN/ESPN2 8pm (confirmed)

Arizona St. at Illinois, ESPN 12pm
West Virginia at Maryland, ESPN2 12pm
Penn St. at Temple, ESPNU 12pm
Northwestern at Army, CBS Sports Network 12pm
Eastern Michigan at Michigan, Big Ten 12pm
Miami (OH) at Minnesota, Big Ten 12pm
South Carolina St. at Indiana, Big Ten 12pm
Southeast Missouri St. at Purdue, Big Ten 12pm
Duke at Boston College, ACC Network (pay TV) 12pm
Virginia at North Carolina, ACC Network (over the air) 12:30pm
Ole Miss at Vanderbilt, SEC Network 12:30pm
Colorado St. vs. Colorado, FSN 2pm
Michigan St. at Notre Dame, NBC 3:30pm
Tennessee at Florida, CBS 3:30pm
Pittsburgh at Iowa, ABC/ESPN 3:30pm
Ohio St. at Miami (FL), ABC/ESPN 3:30pm
Utah at BYU, ABC 3:30pm
Wisconsin vs. Northern Illinois, ESPNU 3:30pm
Texas Tech at New Mexico, Versus 4pm
UL-Monroe at TCU, the mtn. 6pm
Oklahoma St. at Tulsa, FSN 6:30pm
Auburn at Clemson, ESPN2 7pm
Louisville at Kentucky, ESPNU 7pm
Navy at South Carolina, SEC/FSN Regional 7pm
North Texas at Alabama, PPV 7pm
Troy at Arkansas, SEC/CSS 7:30pm
Washington at Nebraska, ESPN 7:45pm
Oklahoma at Florida St., ABC 8pm
Washington St. at San Diego St., CBS College 8pm
Hawai'i at UNLV, the mtn. 10pm
Syracuse at USC, FSN 10pm
Stanford at Arizona, ESPN2 10:30pm

Week Two Guesses for '11

Please note that I've moved the Iowa at Iowa St. game to Thursday.  This game is not confirmed and has not been announced by anyone to be moved to a weeknight.

There's a lot of Big Ten games this week, plus with no ABC window due to NASCAR, its kinda messy.  Also place on ACC Network cable game out there.  Not sure who will be doing those games so I just said "cable" instead of FSN, CSS, etc.

Iowa at Iowa St., ESPN 8pm

FIU at Louisville, ESPN 7pm (confirmed)

FAU at Michigan St., ESPN 12pm
Fresno St. at Nebraska, ESPN2 12pm
BYU at Texas, FSN 12pm
Virginia Tech at East Carolina, F/X 12pm
Cincinnati at Tennessee,  ESPNU 12pm
San Diego St. at Army, CBS Sports Network 12pm
Eastern Illinois at Northwestern, Big Ten 12pm
New Mexico St. at Minnesota, Big Ten 12pm
South Dakota St. at Illinois, Big Ten 12pm
Toledo at Ohio St., Big Ten 12pm
Virginia at Indiana, Big Ten 12pm
UAB at Florida, SEC Network 12:30pm
NC State at Wake Forest, ACC Network (over the air) 12:30pm
Rutgers at North Carolina, ABC 3:30pm
Alabama at Penn St., ABC/ESPN2 3:30pm
Arizona at Oklahoma St., ABC/ESPN2 3:30pm
Utah at USC, ABC 3:30pm
Boston College at UCF, FSN 3:30pm
Oregon St. at Wisconsin, ESPN 3:30pm
Stanford at Duke, ESPNU 3:30pm
UTEP at SMU, CBS Sports Network 3:30pm
Georgia Tech at Middle Tennessee, CSS 3:30pm
South Carolina at Georgia, ESPN2 7pm
California at Colorado, Versus 7pm
Mississippi St. at Auburn, ESPNU 7pm
New Mexico at Arkansas, SEC/FSN Regional 7pm
Connecticut at Vanderbilt, PPV/Local TV 7pm
Southern Illinois at Ole Miss, PPV 7pm
Central Michigan at Kentucky, SEC/CSS 7:30pm
Purdue at Rice, CBS Sports Network 8pm
Northwestern St. at LSU, PPV 8pm
Notre Dame at Michigan, ESPN 8pm (confirmed)
Missouri at Arizona St., ESPN2 10:30pm
Nevada at Oregon, FSN 10:30pm

Friday, February 25, 2011

Early 2011 schedule analysis

Five AQ conferences have finalized their schedules along with Conference USA.  Let's take a look at a few things

  • ESPN only selected two Big East games for its use on Championship Saturday. Tack on the ACC Championship game and that's only three games for ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 to use out of possibly seven game slots (excluding the possibility of the BYU-Hawai'i being televised later in the evening).  We've heard the rumblings of Big 12 games moving to Championship Saturday.  Bank on it.
  • ESPN is nearly done with their Thursday night schedule.  Three spots remain (9/1, 9/8 and Thanksgiving) and it seems likely that all three will end up being Big 12 slots.  There are solid choices for 9/1 and 9/8 for the Big 12.  There was discussion about moving the Lone Star Showdown or Bedlam to December.  With Thanksgiving open, it feels more likely that Bedlam is moving. 
  • The Friday night schedule is close to completion as well.  Four Big East slots and three BYU games are confirmed.  Likely a Black Friday game from the Big East will end up here too.  Also expecting the MAC Championship again on a Friday night.  That would leave the Sun Belt, WAC and MAC to fill 5-6 slots.
  • The Big East again had a Wednesday night football game scheduled.  In my opinion as a Big East fan, it sucks.  It is also part of the contract that was negotiated nearly four years ago.  Not much can be done.
  • I don't know if its guaranteed that there will be Black Friday games on ABC, but they gave themselves the possibility of such an occurrence with the Big East schedule.  I'd expect a Big East-Big 12 doubleheader.
  • The Wake Forest-Syracuse & Marshall-West Virginia games could be moved to alternate dates.  I don't see either game moving to Labor Day as the undercard for Maryland-Miami (FL).  Wake Forest and Marshall follow up these games by opening their conference schedules.  My guess is that both would prefer not to open those schedules on four days rest.  One game might move to Friday night.  The other may stay on Saturday and not move at all.
  • FOX is likely going through the C-USA schedule right now, attempting to move games around to Black Friday, Labor Day and Thursday nights.  I'm expecting their television schedule to be done on a 12 day basis, with CBS Sports Network and FOX Sports Media Group reserving time slots on Saturdays.
The next sets of schedules for ESPN (WAC, MAC, Sun Belt) should come out in relatively short order.  They've likely been in draft form waiting for confirmation of the ACC and Big East schedules.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pac-12 and FOX: Time for a Do-Over?

Larry Scott isn't talking, but that doesn't mean the Pac-10, soon to be Pac-12, commissioner isn't doing his job as the negotiatior for the conference as he explores elevating the conference's profile through new television rights agreements.   Per Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News, sources indicate to him that ESPN will likely not be able to place a quality bid for the Pac-12 rights and FOX could emerge as the rights holder.  Let's break that down.

Currently ABC/ESPN and FOX (specifically FSN) have different contracts and have exclusive negotiation windows for their products.  ABC/ESPN's negotiation window is for over-the-air football games on ABC and some football games on ESPN, specifically about 20 games.   FSN's negotiation window is for football, men's basketball...really all other Pac-10 sports.  That includes sublicensed content such as the Pac-10 football games that Versus airs and the men's basketball games that CBS and ESPN air.

So we have two entities with vastly different amounts of content.  And judging from the desires of the Pac-10, they want all their content under one roof.  So while we're in these exclusive windows, ABC/ESPN can't snag up any additional cable rights that FSN owns, and FOX can't come in and bid on the rights that ABC/ESPN has.  Makes it unlikely that while there is a negotiation window that either side will make a deal.

Plenty of folks, including Wilner, have openly complained about the existing contract with FOX and its inflexible nature.   Specifically with the weeknight basketball windows, where FSN airs usually one men's basketball game and often pushes games into dinnertime starts on the west coast if they want to be aired locally. 

But we know that FOX made their splash by poaching the rights to the Pac-12 title game for 2011 and the assumption is that the title game will be included in any future rights deals instead of being sold off as a one-off game.  As Wilner has put it, FOX is the leader in the clubhouse.

So if FOX gains complete rights to Pac-12 sports, where can they televise those games?  The conference appears to be bent on having a Pac-12 Network, and FOX has the experience of the Big Ten Network to fall back on.  Scott has said he wants premium content on a Pac-12 Network too, so it won't be just out-of-conference clunkers or a matchup between two bad Pac-12 teams.  The next question becomes what platforms does FOX commit to airing games?  I don't think they'll be sublicensing football games in the future (they may continue to that for men's basketball for the championship), so that means that F/X will be carrying games now that FOX has made it know that F/X will have some sports content on it going forward.  The question then becomes whether FSN can continue to televise games.

In my mind, things could look like this, assuming around 75 Pac-12 controlled football games per season:

  • Up to fifteen games on FOX.  FOX does have MLB commitments through September and part of October, so they'll have to work on putting those games in place
  • Another fifteen games on F/X.  Bound to be some weeks where FOX won't take a game.
  • Up to fifteen games on FSN.  This is where the cringing can start, but lets treat FSN as the national syndication package.  Depending on when these games air, and it may be best to make these a late evening game.
  • The rest to the Pac-12 Network.  About 30 games.
Now some schools signed long term regional media contracts, so it will be interesting to see whether these contracts become void or if networks like FSN Northwest and CSN Northwest will continue to retain a limited number of rights to schools like Washington St. and Oregon, respectively, while being able to provide content to all new network partners.

EDIT: One thing to consider is that the Pac-12 might not need to use exclusive over-the-air & cable windows like they do today.  FOX, F/X, FSN and/or a Pac-12 Network could air games all at the same time.  And Larry Scott has stated that he wants more games at times when the east coast can see them.

I know I've glossed over certain things with other sports, and the only other sport I've concentrated on is men's basketball.  I'd still expect CBS to try to retain a relationship with the conference by sublicensing select games.  FOX now has the rights to the Conference USA men's basketball championship, so they could do a back-to-back Championship Saturday with those games, but FOX isn't a place where folks tend to look for college basketball, except for affiliates who air syndication packages.  But I could see a situation where F/X airs some games, FSN airs less and the Pac-12 Network picks up the slack.  And the conference tournament could end up all over the map.

EDIT: Expect scheduling for men's basketball to change as well.  It's possible that the weeknight games will be spread over Wednesdays & Thursdays to get more games on national television.

As for the rest, that's where a Pac-12 Network will make a difference.  More women's sports, more baseball, more...everything.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Pac-10 Wildcards Announcements for 3/3 & 3/5

All times Eastern

UCLA at Washington, 9pm ESPN
Oregon St. at Arizona, 9pm FSN*

Oregon at Arizona, 2pm CBS
UCLA at Washington St., 5:30pm FSN
Stanford at California, 7pm CSN California
USC at Washington, 10:30pm FSN

It appears that no other games will be able to be televised those days.  Washington St. announced that their game with USC on 3/3 will be webcasted on and Arizona St. has listed their game on 3/5 vs. Oregon St. as a webcast as well, starting at 4pm ET.  

*Game was originally a 11pm start (9pm local time in Tuscon). UA does not like to do late evening starts with men's basketball if possible for home games, so FSN and ESPN worked out a deal so their games would coexist on 3/3.

If I were setting the remainder of the '11 Week One schedule...

...this is what I think it looks like:

SMU at Texas A&M, 8pm ESPN
Arkansas St. at Illinois, 8pm Big Ten

Indiana vs. Ball St., 8pm ESPN

Akron at Ohio St., 12pm ESPN
Wake Forest at Syracuse, 12pm ESPN2
TCU at Baylor 12pm FSN
UL-Monroe at Florida St., 12pm ESPNU
Chattanooga at Nebraska, 12pm Big Ten
Indiana St. at Penn St., 12pm Big Ten
Western Michigan at Michigan, 12pm Big Ten
Tennessee Tech at Iowa, 12pm Big Ten
Youngstown St. at Michigan St., 12pm Big Ten
Kent St. at Alabama, 12:30pm SEC Network
Troy at Clemson, 12:30pm ACC Network
USF at Notre Dame, 3:30pm NBC
Northwestern at Boston College, 3:30pm ABC
Tulsa at Oklahoma, 3:30pm ABC/ESPN
UNLV at Wisconsin, 3:30pm ABC/ESPN
Minnesota at USC, 3:30pm FSN
Utah St. at Auburn, 3:30pm ESPNU
Delaware at Navy, 3:30pm CBS Sports Network
Rice at Texas, 7pm "Longhorn Network"
Fresno St. at California, 7pm Versus
BYU at Ole Miss, 7pm ESPNU
Middle Tennessee at Purdue, 7pm Big Ten
FAU at Florida, 7pm SEC/FSN Regional
Missouri St. at Arkansas, 7pm PPV
Montana at Tennessee, 7pm PPV
Elon at Vanderbilt, 7:30pm CSS
Oregon vs. LSU, 8pm ABC
Boise St. vs. Georgia, 8pm ESPN
UCLA at Houston, 8pm CBS Sports Network
Colorado at Hawai'i, 10pm ESPN2
New Mexico at Nevada, 10:30pm ESPNU

East Carolina vs. South Carolina, 3:30pm ESPN
Mississippi St. at Memphis, 3:30pm FSN
UL-Lafayette at Oklahoma St., 7pm FSN

Maryland at Miami (FL), 8pm ESPN (confirmed)

I'm thinking that if BYU-Ole Miss were going to be on a Thursday night, it would have been announced by now.  Since there is rumblings of major changes to the Big 12 schedule, and that both SMU and Texas A&M had great seasons last year, why not open with a Big 12 game on ESPN?

Also think that they'll want to showcase Oklahoma St. during the 1st week, so they'll move a game to Sunday to get mostly national coverage.  I've convinced myself that Mississippi St.-Memphis will be on FSN and not on a Saturday, so it could be on Sunday or Monday.  The Braves are on Fox Sports South on Sunday, but on Peachtree TV (w/outer market coverage on FSSO or SportSouth) and that should be relevant for determining TV coverage along with all other FSN MLB games.

Note that the ACC Network package will now start games at 12:30pm.

Other things to take into account is that there is a NASCAR Nationwide Series race on ESPN2 on 9/3 and it is an evening race, so ESPN2 won't have a prime time game, but could have a late evening game. Versus also has an Indycar race on 9/4 so the possibility of them doing a Pac-12 game on Sunday is unlikely. 

For MWC fans, I left the conference dark for week one, though its possible the mtn. could pick up all three MWC vs. FCS games.  In the past, the mtn. has shied away from televising these games.

And right now I'm not listing any exclusives, PPV games from the Big 12 or regional games from the Pac-12 or Big East.  Those will flow out later.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Scheduling Update for 2011 Football Season

We're close to halfway completed with conference schedules for the 2011 football season.
  • The ACC, Big East, WAC, MAC, MWC and Sun Belt schedules should be released over the next two months.  The ACC and Big East before the others because they tend to provide those conferences some form of priority since they get top billing for Thursday night games and, in the Big East's case, top choice for Friday night games as well.  Edit: ACC schedule was released litterally seconds after this post was published.
  • Of the list above, only the MWC is not actively waiting for ESPN to pick games.  The MWC schedule does take longer because they set all game times and television outlets before the season starts with Versus, CBS College and the mtn.
  • C-USA released its schedule last week and did not move any games (yet) to Thursdays, Sunday or Monday of Labor Day weekend, or to Black Friday.  Now that the framework of the schedule is in place and that the conference is not doing Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday night games for television (Black Friday excluded), expect Fox and CBS College to start looking to pre-select games to move to weeknights.  I am under the impression that Fox and CBS College will set aside game times for C-USA, but they will now select their games on a 12 day basis.
  • Notre Dame, Navy and Army set their games times by May 1st.  Now that NBC is actively working with other Comcast properties like Versus, it will be interesting to see if a Notre Dame home game ends up on Versus.  The contract between ND and NBC does allow for games to air on pay television.
  • The Big 12 likely has some scheduling alterations being discussed now that they lack a conference championship game.  The Red River Rivalry is not moving off its early October date and the Lone Star Showdown is likely to remain a Thanksgiving night game, but other games are available to move either to Thursday nights or to Championship Saturday.  Expect those moves to happen after the ACC and Big East schedules are settled.
  • The Pac-12 moved three games to Thursdays when they released their schedule last fall.  Television assignments for several ABC/ESPN games will be known around May 1st, FSN & Versus selections around June 1st.
  • Much like previous years, some Big Ten game times will be selected in mid-April when schools set their game times for homecoming dates.
  • The majority of non-conference schedules are completed, and some are just waiting for the ink to dry, like TCU's.  Some games could move dates in the interest of television. 
See the list on the right hand side of the page for more information on 2011 college football schedules.