Thursday, April 10, 2014

Could we see a few less SEC football games on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU for 2014?

* The last few SEC Network press releases have noted in the brief description of the network that it will carry approximately 45 football games this year (note that this release also contains a line that it appears the number of 45 is more absolute).   And the math works out well now that they've moved three games off of the opening Saturday of the season.   14 Saturdays available for the SEC network to televise games X 3 games per week = 42 games.  Tack on the two Thursday night games on 8/28 and the Utah St. at Tennessee game on Sunday and the number should be in reach.

I counted 100 conference controlled regular season games for the SEC in 2014.  That number is not counting the conference championship game nor the neutral site games being played in Atlanta & Houston the opening week. If CBS takes 15 games (14 Saturday games and a game for Black Friday), FSN finishes off their sublicensing agreement with their eight games and SEC Network holds themselves to 45 games at the most, it should leave ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU to carry 32 games.  That would be down from 44 games in 2013.

Note that this will correct itself in 2015 when the games sublicensed to FSN return back to ESPN's control.  Using 2014's number of 100 as a base, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU would have 40 games.  Four less than previous years, but not as noticeable a drop.  I also caution that the drop in overall SEC games that you the home viewer will see depends on where you live.  Not every market received the SEC TV syndication games, nor the SEC games sublicensed to FOX and Comcast.

I do not think that one game per telecast window on the SEC Network, especially early in the year, is as easy to do.  Not without putting lesser quality games on ESPN2 or ESPNU over games from other conferences that may be of better quality.  I'm told the SEC Network will have overflow channels available if necessary, so I think it is possible that they will air more games earlier in the season and carry less as more games each week become intraconference games.  I don't think that means they'll air only one game per week or skip a week, but they might only air two games per week instead of three.

It is also possible that the number of 45 is the number of TV windows.  If they air multiple games in any window and continue to air 45 telecast windows for the network, that would further decrease the number of games shown on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU.

* Now that the NCAA basketball tournaments are over, I do expect to see more television announcements for the upcoming season.  Just a gut feeling that the networks, conferences and schools try to stay away from making TV announcements that overshadow the tournament.  There's also the matter of conference staff taking on additional duties related to their member schools being involved in both the men's and women's tournament.  A conference's key point of contact for television may be working as a media liaison to assist a school's media director, for example.

Typically the Big Ten releases their ABC/ESPN night game schedule in mid-late April.  Army and Navy have requirements that their home kickoff times be set by May 1st at the latest, so that should be the first piece to be set in CBS Sports Network's TV schedule and maybe CBS's too.  There are open Thursdays and Friday nights on ESPN's networks and CBS Sports Network that the Mountain West should be filling.  And there might be additional scheduling alterations in flight from conferences who had previously released their schedules.

* I have been told that the Sun Belt is exploring alternatives to the Sun Belt Network that was jointly operated by CSS and CST (Cox Sports Television).  If you are not aware, CSS is shutting down on June 1st.  What those alternatives are, I do not know.   ESPN's deal with the conference allows for a small number of regional telecasts to be produced in football.  No idea about basketball or other sports.

I imagine the conference could attempt to monetize the rights to those games via a paid or ad supported streaming service.  Showing the games exclusively through ESPN3, as they did with nearly ever other Sun Belt controlled game not selected for national or regional TV, is an option.  They could also choose to contract those games to another regional outlet like FOX Sports Networks, though I don't know if FOX would be limited as to who could carry those games outside of the conference's footprint.   ESPN is the conference's primary TV partner and may be the only outlet that can show a game nationally, so I don't think they could do a deal with FOX that would allow them to air games on FOX Sports 1, for example.

I tried to reach out regarding Conference USA's plans now that CSS is going away but did not hear back from anyone.


Hokie Mark said...

I think the ACC in particular is counting on this. The ACC wants to build its football brand and part of that strategy involves getting the best games on national, prime time TV. Fewer SEC games probably means more ACC games.

Matt Sarzyniak said...

Just remember, this could be only for 2014. Once those FSN games come back in house in 2015, the drop isn't as big. Also, the Big Ten, by adding MD & RU, will have a few more games available to ESPN and their platforms.

In some ways, its a hidden blessing for those at ESPN trying to sell this network to providers in the SEC markets if you can show providers that more SEC games will air on this network than the other three combined. Could also be a curse when those providers ask for a drop in the price of those three networks too.

Matt Sarzyniak said...

Coupled w/2015, there also won't be any more NASCAR on ESPN either. So there could be slots available for several conferences.