Monday, March 13, 2017

Some American Sports Network Updates

Caught this article this afternoon from the Charleston Gazette-Mail regarding the possibility of American Sports Network remaining a viable entity.  Take a few minutes, read it & come back here.

I've spoken to a source with knowledge of the situation and they've provided the following, some of which matches what Doug Smock has reported:
  • American Sports Network, as its currently known & comprised as a Sinclair owned & operated entity, is indeed going away.  A new entity will be replacing it. Could it have the Campus Insiders or 120 Sports name on it?  I don't know.  They may be involved in picking up existing ASN obligations.  
  • The West Palm Beach facility would be the master control for the new network, as I believe it was for ASN (ASN couldn't stream a few games this year due to weather issues at master control in WPB), with other staff located in other areas for marketing, sales, studio, etc. Currently, Campus Insiders runs its studio in Chicago.
  • Since use of a master control facility involved, that appears to be a sign of a linear TV operation, with more emphasis towards online distribution than Sinclair had with ASN.  This would line up with Doug's wording about "stronger, more diversified distribution"
  • Nearly all the agreements Sinclair had for producing events will expire at the end of the current athletic year, except for Conference USA.  This falls in line with at least one agreement: I do not know if this new entity would seek previous ASN partners to bolster their lineup.
More to follow.  Hopefully this week.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Units earned by conference in the 2017 NCAA MBK Tournament

Have tracked this the last couple years.  Here's some information on how much a unit pays out over a six year period.

68 units are earned, simply by qualifying for the tournament as an at-large or conference champion.  A unit is earned for each game played, except for the national championship game.  Essentially the unit count is frozen once the Final Four is set.  A win in the First Four is no different than a credit earned at any other time.

The conferences listed are those who have earned more than one credit.  This will be updated upon the close of games each night or the following morning.

Updated through games played on 3/26/17.

ACC - 18
American - 3
Atlantic 10 - 4
Big 12 - 15
Big East - 13
Big Ten - 15
Big West - 2
C-USA - 2
MVC - 2
Pac-12 - 14
NEC - 2
SEC - 16
WCC - 7

19 conferences earned a single credit.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Requiem for American Sports Network

Doron Gorshein tried.  He tried his hand at the America Channel and it never got off the ground.  When you Google "America Channel Gorshein", you'll find articles from 2003-2008 about when the channel was going to launch.  It never did.  With ASN, the concept for the sports portion finally did, but it wasn't enough.

From a content perspective, ASN had hours of it.  Most of it in the realm of college sports, but they tried their hand with the MiLB Game of the Week and ARCA Racing.  The branding was used for regional MLS distribution for a couple squads.  One way to view ASN was that they were filling a hole largely vacated by ESPN Regional Television as syndicated content left both over-the-air and regional sports networks.

Where ASN didn't necessarily fill that gap was the quality, real or perceived, of all of the content being substituted in.  This is by no means a dig at any of the college properties that ASN provided a platform for.  But let's be real for a minute: Conference USA and several FCS conferences were filling holes vacated by what we now know as the Power Five.  It wasn't the Big 12 or SEC.  In the case of ARCA, no one was mistaking it for NASCAR and ARCA isn't near the top of NASCAR's "farm system".

Conference USA really needed this platform back in 2014.  Besides the adverse effects of realignment on their membership (again, not a dig at the incoming schools), the dawn of the SEC Network directly killed off their regional partner CSS (Comcast Sports Southeast/Southwest) as replays and school related programming would shift there, leaving both C-USA and the Sun Belt devoid of a regional TV partner (CSS helped with the Sun Belt Network too).  CBS Sports Network had cut back on their commitment to the conference and without that regional partner (CBSSN's agreement with CSS was a sublicense), the conference had a huge gap that needed to be filled.  ASN had the conference as a flagship.

Several conferences from the original America Channel were lined up for ASN, but they didn't always resemble what they looked like in 2007.  Many conferences weren't as regional as they used to be.  Football windows were split two or three times, occasionally among overlapping conferences.  And we don't consume video content today in the same fashion that we did back then.  Delivering content online, and eventually through mobile phones, tablets and connected TVs, was in its relative infancy.  ESPN was involved in it through ESPN3, but not many others.

ASN entered the market focused so heavily on TV, and filling time on digital subchannels in several cases, that its online digital product was an afterthought (you might call it non-existent) for its first couple years of existence.  I probably answered more questions about ASN with respect to consuming their content through online means, not television.  Some ASN's games were distributed online by the network themselves as some digital rights reverted to ESPN due to sublicensing, but you had to search or know where to go if ASN wasn't distributing the game you wanted on TV.  In other cases, ASN didn't have the digital rights, but the conferences didn't/couldn't distribute the games digitally either.

Consumers on a large scale, outside of the immediate fans of that content, weren't really seeking out ASN, at least not on that primary screen.  At the end of the day, we're still looking for those established names on the big screen.  Maybe that's where Silver Chalice Networks, the parent company of both Campus Insiders, rumored to be taking over ASN's existing obligations, and 120 Sports, will be better positioned as that second screen network.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Implications of American Sports Network Potentially Ceasing Operations

(Edit: A handful of sources have come forward re: ASN shutting down.  As public confirmation, I'll direct you to Chris Mycoskie of the Southland Conference, who confirms it on his own blog).

First, please read this post over at FTVLive.  Thank you to SportsTVRatings, 506Sports and Jeff Wirth for pointing out the article

A few things come to mind, none of which have any immediate answers, especially since the network has not yet ceased operations.

* ASN had multiple year agreements with many of their college properties.  I don't know if those become null and void or if Campus Insiders would be required to pick up all existing deals or be able to pick and choose what they want.  Also don't know how many of these agreements would be expiring at the end of the current athletic year in June.  By phrasing them as multi-year, you don't always get a good sense of the length outside of the length being at least two athletic years.

Some of these agreements weren't with conferences, but with ESPN to sublicense events from at least three conferences (American, MAC and Sun Belt).  ASN wasn't necessarily known to be paying big, or any, rights fees.

Here's a list of everything ASN carried from Division I college sports.  They also had the NCAA's Division II contract.  Campus Insiders' portfolio includes streamed events from C-USA, Mountain West, Patriot League and WCC.  Today, CI produces a handful of games for their conference partners and much of the live content is self-produced by the schools.

* This news hits FCS football hard.  28 FCS games were distributed regionally/nationally.

* For those conferences where ESPN sublicensed content, does ESPN have to now find alternate linear TV distribution for those games?  The American did have a loose threshold of 80-90% of football & all basketball games being televised, though televised on the basketball side includes ESPN3.

* Both Conference USA, who intends to start negotiations for rights agreements that would end after the 2017-18 athletic year, and Patriot League have rights ties with both ASN and Campus Insiders.

* ASN was a fourth TV partner with the Atlantic 10, but had just as much content in terms of hours as NBCSN and CBSSN.  If CI weren't to take that, and the A-10 was previously with them, would it revert to local broadcasters or back to the conference to continue or expand their Facebook Live experiment?

* Campus Insiders is the online partner for the Arizona Bowl where ASN provided a linear TV production.  If CI is the sole partner, I would be curious if there are questions around the viability of this bowl in the future.

* Several Comcast RSNs, along with independent RSNs like Cox Sports, Altitude and NESN, used live ASN events as filler.  ASN came on at a time where a few of these RSNs had dropped FOX Sports Net backdrop programming, right around the time the Pac-12 started their current rights deal and FSN only carried a year of the conference's events.

* Does Campus Insiders have any desire to produce content for wide distribution through linear television?  They have had a tie-in with Dish Network and provide content to Dish's Sling and Verizon's Go90.  They've also worked extensively to air live events through Twitter.  And would a linear TV requirement keep them from continuing with any of these conferences if CI has no intentions to be involved in that space or in television syndication?  Would CI be willing to act as a content producer & tie in with a network like beIN Sports, who dipped their toes in the water with Conference USA?

I suppose we'll all find out soon enough.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Some NASCAR on FOX & CFB Scheduling Items, plus C-USA Rights

* FOX and NASCAR adjust a handful of start times for races in 2017, including a few Truck Series races that fall during the college football season.  Most of the adjustments were to start the race 30 minutes earlier, so why is that important?  Well, it many give us a few clues about potential telecast windows for FS1.

One setup item for all of these dates: Typically the green flag is about 20 minutes after the telecast window starts.  I'm also going to use last year's race length of time as a base.
  • Saturday 9/30 - Las Vegas will start at 8pm ET instead of 8:30pm (2016 race time: 1:31).  FS1 has a MLB window at 4pm ET, so this gives them an hour of buffer time in the event of a long running game.  From there, the race window should be about two hours, which should leave time for a Pac-12 window around 10pm ET.  In 2016, FS1 had a UFC event after the race, so it could also be to get to a potential fight card sooner.
  • Saturday 10/28 - Martinsville will start at 1pm ET instead of 1:30pm (2016 race time: 1:25). College football windows could start at 3pm.  This Saturday would fall during the World Series, so FOX may want to start their college football coverage slightly earlier.  Last year they carried a tripleheader as the broadcast network carried an early afternoon game plus baseball.
  • Friday 11/3 - Texas will start at 8pm ET instead of 8:30pm (2016 race time: 1:29). UCLA at Utah is scheduled for this evening and with ESPN tentatively scheduled to carry two American Athletic Conference games on this evening, moving the truck race up makes a ton of sense because it would allow FS1 to carry the Pac-12 game with a local kickoff time of 8pm (10pm ET).
* Conference USA is readying to return to the table with their rightsholders, per the Daily News Journal's Aldo Amato.  The conference has four small rights deals with ESPN (football only), CBS Sports Network, beIN Sports and American Sports Network for total minimums of 37 football games and 36 men's basketball games (all numbers include conference championship events), in addition to events in other sports.

My personal opinion: The deals last year were done relatively late after FOX Sports declined to bid to continue as a TV partner and it affected how the conference made its deals.  beIN isn't as many homes, but by the accounts in the article, they did seem to produce a good viewable product.  CBS Sports Network has stuck by the conference through multiple iterations of membership, even if the commitment with the number of games has decreased over time, though it was a coup to pick up the basketball championship.  I'd stay with those partners.  

The point about ASN being a drop in picture quality compared to beIN I think is valid, and with ASN being a syndication partner, finding a game can be hit & miss and I don't think every C-USA game was streamed by ASN (I remember a couple being provided through online pay-per-view , platform CUSA.TV), though that can be true with FOX Sports Regional Networks too, and as ASN picked up more conferences to show via sublicensing agreements with ESPN, there's been a decrease in exposure with C-USA.  I also can't speak to what the conference is being paid.

I'd personally look to move away from ASN.  Maybe see if ESPN would be willing to take on a few more football games for ESPNEWS and maybe some basketball on ESPNU & ESPNEWS.  The conference could use the extra national exposure on a platform that is easy to find.   If the money isn't there and FOX Sports or NBC Sports are willing to come in, it can't hurt to talk to them as the goal is to get back to income levels before the current batch of deals.

There was talk that schools were working towards becoming ESPN3 content providers and it sounds like Rice and Old Dominion were two of the schools that were able to move towards that goal.  Getting away from CUSA.TV, despite the revenue that could be gained, might be worth it.  Where does Campus Insiders fit in?  I didn't see any issue with keeping them around as they are truly a free platform vs. ESPN3 requiring your ISP to be aligned with them or a pay TV provider, but I would understand if the goal for all schools was ESPN3 and to align all online content in one place.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Notes from BYU, MAC, Mountain West, Notre Dame & Sun Belt Schedule Releases

* It does look like Notre Dame can do two night games at home in three consecutive seasons and, as I suspected, the Georgia game is the second night game.  Didn't see the Miami (OH) game on NBCSN though, nor with the unique start time of 5pm ET.  There is a Xfnity Series race telecast preceding the Miami game at 3pm that day.  NBC & Golf channel are listed as carrying the Presidents Cup event over this weekend, so NBC may be occupied most of the day, hence the move to NBCSN.

* With the move of Virgina at Boise St. to Friday, September 22nd, that may signal FS1 picking up Utah at Arizona which is scheduled for the same evening.  FS1 is scheduled to carry an ARCA race that evening but could move that event to FS2, which they did last year when picking up USC at Utah last year.

As for Boise St. at BYU moving to a Friday, October 6th, expect the preceding Memphis at Connecticut game to start at 7pm ET based on the start time for the BYU game being announced as 10:15pm ET.

* New Mexico at Boise St. was scheduled for September 16th, which I thought was a remote possibility.  Since ESPN controls the rights to all Boise St. home games, with the exception of being able to trade one game to CBS Sports Network for one of Boise St.'s Mountain West road games, it is still possible to be doubleheadered with Illinois at USF.

* It appears that both CBS Sports Network and ESPNU will have weeknight doubleheaders involving MAC schools.  On Friday, September 1st, Boston College at Northern Illinois was selected to air on CBS Sports Network.  Fordham at Army was also scheduled for this date and the two games could end up as a doubleheader, maybe starting at 6pm ET with Fordham-Army followed by the NIU game at 9:30pm ET / 8:30pm local time in DeKalb.

On Thursday, November 2nd, one MAC game, either Northern Illinois at Toledo or Ball St. at Eastern Michigan, will be doubleheadered with Idaho at Troy on ESPNU.  My expectation is the MAC game will start at 6pm ET with Idaho at Troy at 9:15pm or 9:30pm ET / 8:15pm or 8:30pm local time.

* I'm a bit unclear why the MAC Championship game is not yet set for a specific date and assume that it is dependent on network schedules.  The Lions would be playing a home Thursday game the week before, so I don't think they would be playing back-to-back Thursday games, though it is certainly possible.  At this point, I imagine ESPN is trying to figure out the best date for the game.  In 2017, they'll have championship games from the ACC, American, C-USA, Mountain West and Pac-12.  Since the Sun Belt is the only conference playing regular season games that Saturday, ESPN could elect to either air the best available Sun Belt game, move the MAC Championship to Saturday to have a full day of championship games or Thursday as they game was played on Thursday nights for several years, or end up keeping it on Friday.

* Seven of CBS Sports Network's maximum 12 MAC games will air on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.  Since the conference has virtually eliminated any Saturday games after October 28, expect the conference to have its five other CBSSN games on Saturdays from September 9th - October 28th.  I don't think they'll take UAB at Ball St. on September 9th either, so expect five Saturday MAC games on CBSSN over seven weeks.  Same for ASN who may end up taking a game a week over nine weeks to get to close to their ten game maximum.