Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The MAC, ESPN and sublicensing plus a few items for 11/29 CFB TV selections

* You may have seen Deadspin highlight a very interesting exchange between a Kent St. professor and Mid-American Conference commissioner Jon Steinbrecher.  It isn't the first time that Steinbrecher has been rather vague about the terms of the MAC's extended TV deal with ESPN and not the first time that a Kent St. student or professor has asked questions about the deal.

The terms of the new deal supposedly don't change for a few years, but what did change is that ESPN took over all video distribution rights to the conference's football & men's basketball games.   By doing this, ESPN is working with the schools to upgrade production facilities and Buffalo, Central Michigan and Northern Illinois will be the first three schools to upgrade.  Regional television deals with Time Warner Cable were cancelled in the process, with ESPN now controlling the sublicensing of events to third parties, per the teleconference with ESPN and the interview with the Hustle Belt.

With a transition period over to self-produced content, there seems to be a gap that isn't yet being filled.  During the 2014 football season, there have only been a handful of regional telecasts, all produced by Buckeye Cable Sports for the airing of Toledo and Bowling Green.  Based on the initial schedule of men's basketball games set aside to air on ESPN Full Court, the only MAC-based regional telecasts so far also come from those two schools via Buckeye Cable.  Sublicensing for the other Ohio schools doesn't seem to have materialized at this time.

I caution with "at this time" and "yet" because the conference has said that there would be regional partners that have worked previously with the MAC.  Those could be on the way.  Maybe the self-production of content will allow some programming to be made available to regional networks.  The Hustle Belt interview notes possible increases in national exposure via sublicensing and right now the only items I can think of are a few extra exposures on CBS Sports Network if they were to drop coverage of Conference USA or to occupy some space on FOX Sports 2 or FSN, again if there were to be large changes in coverage of C-USA once their current rights agreements expire.

Here's the deal with sublicensing though.  The control of it is really out of the conference's hands.  It is up to ESPN to price and sell the content to third parties.  With any contract, and I don't know the exact terms of the deal, if it isn't in writing, it really isn't guaranteed to occur and that applies to sublicensing too I would assume.  The American Athletic Conference appears to have required it as part of their TV deal with ESPN to sublicense content to someone for additional national exposure, who turned out to be CBS Sports Network.  If the MAC is banking on ESPN to sublicense, but the terms for sublicensing are not in place or are in place but not appropriate for the marketplace (ie. costs, blackout protections, etc.), there's no guarantee anything gets sublicensed.  But that's a bit of a doomsday scenario.

I've seen folks from the MAC point to millennials moving away from owning a TV and/or purchasing traditional pay TV services in exchange for the ability to consume content on-demand and/or a-la-carte, one place where sports content doesn't 100% fit.  Going the over-the-top route with ESPN for content, for example, might be a place to go as ESPN is working with over-the-top services for MLS and the NBA.  The MLS service looks like it will be the test bed for the NBA package.  And I do consume, occasionally, games that are exclusively on ESPN3 through my phone via Chromecast to varying degrees of success (ie. app issues where ESPN3 commercials sometimes kill the casting process).

My concern would be if this content remains tied only to ESPN3.  While there are a lot of telcos and stand-alone ISPs who pay for ESPN3 so that you aren't 100% tied to your pay TV providers' ability to carry WatchESPN, will there be a point where ESPN3 gets pulled into WatchESPN acceess too?  And at that point, are you tied back into requiring a pay TV provider for that extra content that isn't televised?

* I messed regarding the requirements of the SEC regarding the maximum number of times a school can appear on CBS and I also think this isn't the first time I've botched it.  As others (Clay Travis, Ryan Brown of WJOX radio, etc.) have expressed, the maximum number of times a school can appear on CBS is five.  I though it was six as Florida hit that number of appearances in 2009.

There is a wildcard built in where CBS can take a team above the maximum number by one no more than four times.  Since I though the max was six, that would have meant seven appearances.  In reality, the "wildcard" number is six with the maximum being five.  So CBS has used their wildcard once and elected not to use it in 2014 for Alabama to get the Iron Bowl.

* As a side note for CFB TV selections for 11/29 and 12/6, the following number of six day holds have been used for the following conferences.  The maximum number of six day holds are in parenthesis:

ACC: 3 (4)
American: 2 (unsure)
Big Ten: 3 (4)
Big 12: 2 (4)
Pac-12: 2 (unsure)

It is my understanding that a six day hold is specific to the kickoff time being held up, not necessarily a decision regarding who will air the game (ie. when a game could air on ESPN or ESPN2 at a specific time).  So it is possible that selections next Monday for 11/28 & 11/29 could be spotty again and in the case of the American and Big 12, who have games on December 6th, two more weeks of held up kickoff times.

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