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.


am19psu said...

Hey Matt,

Do you have a comprehensive list of TV rights by conference anywhere? With Fox and potentially Comcast getting into the game, I'd like to see where everything stands going into the next round of negotiations.


Matt Sarzyniak said...

I do have a series of articles from August 2009 regarding conference TV contracts. Since several conferences have realigned (Big 12, Big Ten, MWC, Pac-12, WAC) and two others have signed new rights agreements (ACC & C-USA) much of that info is outdated. I may try to freshen some of that info up this summer.

Matt Sarzyniak said...

I screwed up and accidentally deleted a comment from Arizona Herd that I intended to publish. It was a link to the recent announcement for the C-USA/FOX deal. Just wanted to make sure his comment was put in place.