Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Reading tea leaves from the Big East and ESPN

ESPN Press Release
Big East Press Release

Do you think these press releases are contradictory at times and intentionally vague?  I do.  I guess we've been spoiled with shared deals from the SEC, Pac-12, C-USA and Big 12 in recent years where the number of games for national distribution was clearly spelled out.  Reads a lot more like the ACC press release in 2010, except it doesn't even feel like both releases are on the same page.

ESPN: Every conference-controlled football game will be available via a television or digital platform.
Big East: Nearly 90 percent of the games will be carried on national broadcast or national cable.

The Big East release made a point to note that this deal would have an increased minimum in terms of the number of games.  The current deal had a staggered set of minimums.  17 games on ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 with at least three on ABC, plus a minimum of five games on ESPNU.  Note that when the deal was written ESPNU was in far fewer homes than it is today.  

Let's say that the deal is now for 27-28 games as a minimum on those networks and I'm basing that on 22 games over 8 teams now being 27 games over 10 teams, possibly increasing to 33 over 12 teams (note: Navy's home games remain with CBS until possibly 2018).  One thing that ESPN has done with the recent deal with the Big 12 for example is to say they have 18 games and they could air anywhere across ABC/ESPN/ESPN2.  The difference was that between FOX and ESPN was the requirement of national distribution on their various networks.

Next question is how you define the word "televise".  The ESPN release notes the use of digital platforms and it isn't mentioned with respect to football & men's basketball.  Even if you have a larger number of national television exposures on those platforms, does national distribution include ESPN3?  Most folks aren't fans of that because ESPN3 can be tied to subscribing to the right TV or ISP provider.  But I can tell you that many schools and conferences will use the word "televise" instead of "webcasted" or "webstreamed", though I think equating ESPN3 with television is disingenuous.  Most of us can't turn on our TV and find ESPN3 unless our cable provider has access to show some ESPN3 games like Time Warner does, or if you have the right infrastructure on your home network to show those games on your big screen (ie. cable from the laptop, using an XBox or software to stream to a PS3).

ESPN: Brief notes about sublicensing to national & regional networks
Big East: Sublicensing was not noted, but syndication & local games are going away.

There has been some rumors about FOX licensing content, probably football, for FOX Sports 1.  How much of that content they can pick up remains to be seen.  Let's say there are 70 football slots (5 per week, four on Saturday, one on Thursday for 14 weeks).  If C-USA continues to take 20 (no word on if this changed with the changes in membership, assuming for now it didn't), Pac-12 takes 10 & Big 12 takes up 30. That would leave the around ten slots for the Big East.

If a regional package does remain, or we see a blended version of regional/national exposure, FSN works quite well, especially if the SEC Network starts up in 2014-15 because those RSNs will lose some football content, in addition to whatever they lose when FOX Sports 1 starts up in August.  Nearly every market is covered via FSN or an affiliate of their network

Tulane, SMU, Houston = FOX Sports SW & the New Orleans sub-feed
UCF & USF = FOX Sports Florida & Sun Sports
East Carolina & Memphis = FOX Sports South & SportSouth (though SportSouth is limited in eastern NC)
UConn = MSG & MSG Plus (as affiliate of FSN)
Cincinnati = FOX Sports Ohio

Only Temple is out of luck when it comes to FSN either with an affiliate or a FOX owned RSN.  Comcast SportsNet does license ACC games from Raycom using a FOX-like production (maybe FOX sells the games to RSNs for Raycom??).  Last year, FSN games were infrequently cleared WMCN (channel 44) in the area.

ESPN: Discussion that 170 men's basketball games will be aired across various platforms
Big East: At least 107 men's basketball games will be televised on national broadcast or national cable

Goes back to the football discussion.  Which is it?  The 107 number seems rights when you multiple 170 * .63, so what happens to the rest?  Also with the conference tournament, the conference release says the entire thing will be on national TV.  The ESPN release doesn't have that info, but both releases mention that the championship game will be on ESPN or ABC.

By the way, in the ESPN press release, they note that CBS will have a men's basketball package.  On the media conference call, Mike Aresco sidestepped the question, but noted that his former employer has been a good partner and they would have an announcement with a broadcast network next week.

I'll be a little fair now.  After finishing the conference call, it is abundantly clear there are details to be fleshed out.  That doesn't necessarily surprise me.  I remember emailing Pac-12 officials after their media rights deals were signed and received replies that included the words "We haven't decided that yet", "Still working on TV", "Our partners will be discussing that with the conference soon".  I hope they are positives for the conference and its members.

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