Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Some 2014 CFB TV Nuggets

  • California scheduled their weeknight home game for Levi's Stadium for 2014.  Outside of Black Friday and the opening weekend, FOX Sports 1 did not show any other Friday night games. Seems like it would be earmarked for ESPN, but we shall see.
    • I am a little surprised that Cal is making this big of a deal about studying feasibility of weeknight games.  In 2012, they hosted Washington on Friday, November 2nd.  This was after the renovations of Memorial Stadium.
  • FOX and ESPN each get two priority picks every year.  Just so happens that Notre Dame will visit Arizona St. and USC in 2014.  It would not surprise me to see both networks each reserve one of the games, though we might not hear in advance which ones they get until the late spring or summer.  The USC game seems more likely to be taken by ESPN due to its history.
  • With the exception of the opening week of the season & Black Friday, Oregon and Arizona are the two schools Pac-12 that have not hosted mid-season weeknight games.  Both have hosted either on the Thursday or Friday night of the opening week or on Black Friday.
  • Miami and Louisville, who will face off in the Russell Athletic Bowl in less than two weeks, could open against each other over Labor Day weekend.  Louisville would be the home team and has played games on Sunday of Labor Day weekend.  Could end up being the Labor Day evening game.  Maybe it depends on Teddy Bridgewater's decision to enter the 2014 NFL Draft.  I don't know.  Bridgewater has been very coy about what he intends to do.

  • Have been told that the number of American games on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU will increase slightly as they start their new contract with ESPN.  I believe the new minimum is now 28 games, up from last year's minimum of 24.  I do not know if it will go up once Navy's home games become part of the conference's TV package as only Navy's conference road games will be available.  I have been told that Navy's home games will remain on CBS Sports Network until the end of their TV contract after the 2018 season.
    • Navy's home appearances on CBS Sports Network will be separate from the sublicensed games that ESPN will make available to CBS Sports Network, so in 2015, you could see around 20 games from the conference on CBS Sports Network when adding together the sublicensed games plus Navy's home games.
    • Navy's home games include the "home" game vs. Notre Dame that usually appears on CBS.
    • Games on ESPNEWS will go towards making sure that a large majority (80-90%) of games are televised on national networks when added together with the other four ESPN networks already mentioned plus CBS Sports Network
    • I am not sure if CBS Sports Network is actively working on an authenticated digital streaming option.  Right now, I would not get my hopes up.
  • CBS Sports Network will again get top priority among regular season games from the Mountain West, excluding Boise St. home games which are reserved for ESPN.  I don't think that it is guaranteed that Boise St.'s conference road games must appear on CBSSN.  I could see CBSSN setting aside these games as their eight:
    • Nebraska at Fresno St.
    • Navy at Air Force
    • Washington at Hawai'i
    • Arizona St. at New Mexico
    • San Diego St. at Fresno St.
    • Boise St. at Air Force
    • Boise St. at Wyoming
    • Boise St. at Nevada
  • With CBSSN retaining 22 Mountain West games, around 10-12 Army & Navy football games, a couple Patriot League games, 13-15 American games and a Division II package for Thursday nights, Conference USA is getting kinda squeezed out.  Maybe C-USA will allow for a few Friday night games on CBSSN to relieve some of the Saturday pressure.  CBSSN could also do a few more 12pm starts for the American & C-USA when Army or Navy are not on the network, plus more late evening starts for the Mountain West.
  • In regards to C-USA, FOX gets to reserve ten games off the top for their television package.  C-USA's advantage when it comes to non-conference games was that it was in proximity to ACC, SEC and Big 12 schools who would regularly travel to those schools for road games, but with realignment, some of the schools that drew decent non-conference opponents have moved on or are moving on this year.  I could see FOX taking some combination of Texas Tech-UTEP, Arizona-UTSA, BYU-Middle Tennesee and FIU's home games vs. Pitt and Louisville, but after that they will need some guidance from the conference office and schools to guide them for the next five selections plus the bottom ten selections.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Is FOX really a player for the main Big Ten rights?

I posted something re: rights agreements & realignment being relatively stable this offseason -- but some of  YOU couldn't be patient (say the last part in the tone of Lewis Black without yelling).  Naturally what you brought up is the Big Ten rights deals, which run for another three athletic years.  Clearly, some of you couldn't leave this well enough alone, at least for 18 months.

Yes, it will get the fourteen schools (Fourteen? Maybe it will be 22 by that point!) and the conference will have more cash to work with.  And a few of you mentioned that FOX is your front runner.  But everyone has work to do & ESPN might have already been clearing some of the decks to stay in place, at least when it comes to football.

ESPN has already dumped off NASCAR after 2014, which takes up valuable programming blocks on Saturdays.  FOX has also dumped off many of their summer & fall NASCAR commitments too though, which will no longer have to cut in to show qualifying for Sprint Cup or the Nationwide Series.  They will still have the trucks on a few Saturdays, plus whatever other motorsport commitments they've elected to carry live on weekends.

In terms of college football, the only commitment that will increase slightly is that ESPN can increase the number of Big 12 games they can carry starting in 2016 from nineteen up to 23.  Four games that could be shoehorned in anywhere on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU, especially when you consider that ESPNEWS will be a place to show games on Saturdays from the American and Mountain West.

FOX also has the UFC through 2018, which right now has proven to be the one piece of programming that attracts a consistent audience on FOX Sports 1.  So there will be Saturday nights where they'll have to cut away from college sports.  FOX also has new MLB commitments starting with 2014 where FOX Sports 1 will carry MLB on many Saturdays.

There is also the matter of how were have been working with fifteen week regular seasons in college football in 2013 & 2014.  I believe it is better to look at a base of fourteen week regular seasons, and really thirteen weeks when it comes to a conference that plays a championship game because the last week isn't a week that gets accounted for.

To me, if FOX were going to go in for all the Big Ten rights, a few things need to occur:

  • A determination needs to be made by FOX as to how many games per week they are willing to show on their broadcast network.  With SEC and American syndication ending this year, I counted around ten FOX affiliates that carried ACC Network games plus maybe a few that carried MAC football in the Midwest.  Alledgely their affiliates wanted a newscast before the primetime game, which is where FOX only had two afternoon-primetime doubleheaders.  Clear that up, do the math and figure out how many games you could show from the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 on a national level.
  • A decision needs to be made where MLB division series and league championships will air.  The broadcast network will have the World Series, but the other playoff obligations can air on either FOX or FOX Sports 1.  Yes, most of those games will take place on weeknights, but they'll likely take up real estate on Saturdays too.
  • I really don't believe that FOX would sublicense these rights back to ESPN.  Would seem foolish to buy rights for something this expensive and keep a competitor around, if you believe FOX would be trying to poach these rights to harm ESPN.  You might look at how FOX and ESPN seem to share rights to the Big 12 and Pac-12, but both I believe were under different circumstances.  The Big 12 was trying to keep itself afloat and the Pac-12 wanted to be on ESPN and FOX if at all possible instead of going to NBC.
  • FOX Sports 2 will absolutely be a key.  Not as some overflow channel, which we found when Texas Tech-Oklahoma moved to FOX News that it wasn't even a consideration, though it became one later in the evening when TCU-Texas moved there in conjunction with airing it on FSN.  The last part is the important part though.  FOX couldn't move that game over to FS2 without providing the FSN option because FS2 is in far fewer homes than FS1.  FOX has to find a way to move some Saturday content, including the odd Big 12 or C-USA game, over there just to create some room and make it content that requires pay TV companies to carry it.  They must get in more homes and for pay TV providers, it probably has to be at a lower rate.
    • Haven't even touched men's basketball either.  If I were FOX, I'd have to make sure that both the Big Ten and Big East were prepared to move games over to FS2, primarily in non-conference play but possibly during conference play too, though the Big East has the luxury of games being sublicensed to CBS Sports Network.  In the case of the Big East, more of their games there and make sure the Big 12 is cool with more of their women's basketball being sent there.
    • FOX Sports Go is also a key.  BTN2Go, right now, is more robust as a product than FOX Sports Go is, not to mention that BTN2Go has the relationships already in place with pay TV companies.  The product has to be what FOX must shoot for with FOX Sports Go.
  • No, let's not even bother with FSN as an option.  Comcast SportsNets cover several Big Ten areas, now and future (Chicago, DC, NYC, Philly) and if they aren't carrying FSN programming now, why press your luck?  Remember that FOX already has good terms with Comcast when it comes to FS1 and, allegedly, FS2.  Why rock that boat again?
The conference needs to figure out how many of its existing quirks will remain in place.  Night games in November allegedly will be relaxed in future years, but how will those games be determined?  Will a game be set aside, then 12 days before hand the rightsholder(s) can decide to place the game on a particular outlet?  Will homecoming kickoff times continue to be set far in advance or be placed into the 12 day selection process?  Will midseason Thursday night games be an option at some point (I don't think so, but its worth asking)?

One item I do believe that will occur: the conference championship game will not be its own contract.  I believe it will go with whomever gets what is today a 41 game package.  Only other thing that would make some sense is that ESPN and BTN share it, where FOX or FOX Sports 1 is allowed to air it in the years BTN has it, similar to the rotation of the Pac-12 championship game.  Maybe one network would have the Pac-12, the other has the Big Ten, and that flipflops every year.

Here's one item to watch though, and its closer in timeframe compared to the conference's full rights agreements:  FOX has to negotiate with several pay TV companies in New Jersey, New York City and the Mid-Atlantic to make sure that BTN is carried on the right tier in those markets so that any Rutgers and Maryland games on the network are seen by as many households as possible in those areas.  Remember that this happened when Nebraska joined the conference.  If there are any missteps by FOX or any acrimony that arises between the schools and FOX, could it show up when all rights are available for the taking?

If the rights hit the open market, and I think they will unless ESPN makes a massive offer in exclusive negotiations to keep them, will FOX make a play for at least a portion of ESPN's rights package?  Absolutely, but like I said, I don't think they can take on the current 41 game package with how their existing resources are set up.  They need work, but they have time and the Big Ten will be paying attention.  Right now the Big Ten has it pretty good with ESPN though.  Via the reverse mirror option, the conference is guaranteed to get their games shown nationally.  I think ESPN has the established spaces and products in place to work with, especially with the extra time they'll earn from losing their NASCAR commitments.  Loyalty does go a long way.  Live Big Ten football first appeared on ESPN in 1989 if I did my research correctly and Bristol pulled out all the stops last time the rights were out there.  I seem to recall reading that ESPN employees were encouraged to wear "ESPN is Big Ten Country" when Big Ten officials were on site.

We shall see though.  We're nearly two years ahead of ourselves and a lot of things can change between now and then.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Ten Years Gone...

That's a Led Zeppelin song off Physical Graffiti.  It is how long I've been compiling TV listings for college football and basketball as of the end of the 2013-14 athletic year.  The first year (2004) was at the now-defunct, the last nine on my own website.

I never set out to do this for ten years.  I can't say I want to do this for ten more years either.  I had hoped to do it for no more than five and move on.  I started doing this was because a friend and I had recently bought DirecTV systems and wanted to know how many college football games we could get access to on a given Saturday compared to our cable systems.  I had moved from Western NY to Northeast Ohio and for the first time had full time access to FOX Sports Net (our WNY affiliate, the late Empire Sports Network, was only part time and eventually cancelled its affiliation on the way to being dissolved).  I posted the listings on a few other boards on the net and after the '04 season decided to get a centralized home for it.   It began to take off from there to the point where it received visibility in the Los Angeles Times and this past summer, Athlon noted it as one of the 100 college football accounts to follow this past offseason.

The college basketball side came along for the ride and has usually been the bigger beast to track because you're dealing with roughly 50% more schools compared to football and compared to football, though I kinda enjoy it a little bit more.  Maybe because things are more entrenched in place and not really flexible.  If basketball had 12 day picks for all tip times, this site and blog wouldn't exist.  Thankfully its only a handful.

At the same time, my own career needed a place to grow.  As a computer programmer, my work in COBOL & mainframe programming was OK, but as someone at the time just turning 30, I needed a sandbox to work on web development, work that I wanted to transition into.  At that point, the site needed a proper home because the free home I had been using didn't have the proper "back end" to do the programming I wanted.  The guts of the site behind the scenes is the main reason today why the site still stands.  It has been rewritten three times, each time due to advances in technology as I've gained more knowledge and different assignments at work.

Not to bore you but simple HTML tables -> Windows Forms -> Windows Forms w/database storage (dynamically generated HTML) -> .Net MVC, jQuery and some tweaks this past summer to make it more responsive for mobile devices.  While the site probably looks extremely plain to you, there is plenty flying around backstage to make sure each page gets served up properly and, hopefully, in a reasonable amount of time to you the end user.

This blog has allowed me to occasionally write about TV rights items and bring things to the forefront that you the viewer might not be aware of.  I'd like to do more of it if I could, but I admit that the blog is often more reactionary than it is news breaking, if it has ever truly broken any news.  If I were to keep track of a batting average of the analysis and the 12 day pick guesses, its probably less than 20% right, but at times I do enjoy sticking my neck out and running through these scenarios as long as I think I have a solid foundation to base the analysis on.  You've contributed to that as well, correcting me when I've glossed over or forgotten something.

And here we are today.  Its been an interesting ten years.  I've been blessed with a solid group of followers on Twitter since that account was started and it has grown mostly through word of mouth and when I've visited many message boards, you've been good to me with allowing me to give you my opinion, along with me taking your points of view and reflecting on them.  You've also been very good about correcting me when I've been wrong, which is a lot.  I've worked jointly with other sites at times and they've been very good to me and by extension, to you the site visitor as well.  Many media members, conference and school officials, television staffers and executives have been very generous to me, and again by extension, you the visitor as well.  Without their honesty and generosity when it came to answering a question or getting an item clarified, this site and blog wouldn't be what it has been.

Over the past ten years we've seen
  • Internet streaming of television become more prevalent.  We now demand a network, or its content, be available via digital means vs. exclusively on television.
    • Internet exclusive games rose exponentially
  • The ways to consume content changed from just televisions & laptops to include handheld devices such as mobile phone & tablets.  
  • Conferences starting their own television networks to generate more revenue
  • Broadcast networks convert or buy channels to have a cable sports division
    • CSTV -> CBS College Sports -> CBS Sports Network
    • OLN -> Versus -> NBC Sports Network
    • SPEED -> FOX Sports 1 (though FOX did have FSN)
  • All four major broadcast English speaking broadcast networks regularly televise college football on Saturdays
  • Concepts such as the reverse mirror, sublicensing and what amounts to sharing rights (ie. Big 12 & Pac-12 where FOX & ABC seem to be co-rights holders instead of a clear #1 or #2)
  • Less and less games every year go without video, either on TV or webcasts
  • Nearly all major bowl games move from broadcast television to pay television
  • High definition became the norm, the standard, the requirement
  • Syndication packages come and go, to the point that only one on that was around in '04 will remain in '14 (ACC Network/Raycom) and that's only because of sublicensing
  • Contracts that were made, well, to be broken, renegotiated and require a bit of compromise to get games on the air.
  • A college football playoff for the bowl subdivision.
  • The NCAA tournament went from being mostly regional the first weekend and the Sweet Sixteen to a four channel affair where every game is national
Not everything has been roses.  I admit that I've had more burnout moments over the past few years and for that I am sorry if you've been on the wrong side of those.

Television became a reason for conferences to expanded and schools to move on, sometimes unnecessarily in the name of the almighty dollar at the expense of rivalries that have yet to restart and may never be played again.  I'm not naive to the notion that there is a lot of money flying around and the athletes who we cheer for don't necessarily reap all of the rewards of that cash, but that is another story that is going to be debated about for years to come.  I'm also not naive to the fact that the school I mostly root for (Syracuse) was one of those who moved on to another conference for the cash.

This weekend I'll be mostly unavailable.  The bowl schedule will updated when I can before Sunday, then finalized late on Sunday night.  I have better things to do.  Hope you understand.  Anyways, thanks for stopping by and reading.