Thursday, May 25, 2017

Notes on ESPN's College Football Opening Weekend Release

If you haven't seen ESPN's initial schedule release, take a look at it, then I'll try to answer a few questions about what was announced.

Where are the ESPN2 games? The opening weekend of college, Week One since there's a Week Zero now...coincides with ESPN televising the US Open tennis championship.  Since 2015, ESPN2 has been largely missing from the opening Saturday so that they can devote a full day to tennis.  Unless there's a change afoot, I think that plan will stay in place.

What SEC game do you think CBS will take for Week One? Maybe the better question revolves around whether CBS will air any college football over Labor Day weekend, and potentially not the following weekend either.  In 2015 and 2016 they had two SEC games the first two weeks of the season through a sublicense with ESPN, which happens to coincide with the US Open moving over to ESPN and absorbing coverage that used to air on CBS.  Those games didn't appear to be the top choice that CBS normally has throughout the season.  They looked to be anywhere from the second to fourth best game available.

For the opening weekend, the remaining SEC games are a pair of matchups vs. Sun Belt schools and two other games vs. FCS opponents.  Provided t The sublicensing agreement remains in place and if it isn't specifically tied to the SEC (ie. any two games they can agree upon), maybe CBS would have a game from outside the SEC.  If I were in CBS's shoes and a general sublicense were still in place, I'd pass on all four.  As for Week Two, CBS's best options appear to be Fresno St. at Alabama, TCU at Arkansas and South Carolina at Missouri.  Everything else is a game vs. a FCS opponent.

Its quite possible that the agreement has expired and there was no plans on either side to continue it.  ESPN did manage to stuff four games on "The Mothership" the opening weekend.  All four games are being played in locations in the Eastern & Central Time Zone, with the first three games in telecast windows of either three hours or three hours & fifteen minutes compared to what seems to be the normal three hours & thirty minutes.

EDIT: Regarding the two strikethrough items, I have been able to confirm that ESPN and CBS do have an existing sublicense agreement in place for college football games this season and for 2018.

When will they announce more start times for the first three weeks? ESPN's release says "at a later date".  Wouldn't be surprised to see the later date be next week.  The Big 12 website pegs June 1st as the date they want to release their early season & special date games.

That Oklahoma at Ohio State start time is weird.  Why is it 7:30pm ET? Great question because I didn't know.  I thank many of you for sending stuff in that you find.  Here's the answer in a pair of tweets:

So there you go.  Its a thing for Big Ten games.  No idea if we'll know games or specific weeks in advance of the season.

Hey, when are the going to announce the new Big Ten rights agreements, especially with ESPN picking five Big Ten games over the first two weeks?  Where's my shoulder shrug emoji?  Seriously, I don't know when they'll announce them.  I thought the marketing upfronts that ESPN and FOX did over May 15-16 would be a good time for that.  FOX clearly did as you'll see in a moment.

CBS acknowledged this week that they'll have the Big Ten men's basketball championships, even with the date change for 2018.  FOX announced they'll have the Gavitt Games matchups with the Big East split between FS1 and BTN.  The conference put it in a press release about the 2017 Friday night football games and Jim Delany spoke about them at football media days last summer.  So its not a secret at this point.  Maybe the basketball items, which Delany mentioned in the video towards the end, have been resolved now that CBS found a Selection Weekend replacement for 2018 with the American Athletic Championship.

What do you think FOX will pick up for games in the early part of the season? If you haven't seen this image from FOX Broadcasting's marketing upfront about ten days ago, take a look:
Most of the games in the image are played after Week Three, except Texas at USC.  Besides that one and Texas A&M at UCLA on Sunday of Labor Day weekend, I think its fair to look at Pittsburgh at Penn St., Louisville vs. Purdue, Maryland at Texas and either Stanford at USC or Nebraska at Oregon as possibilities for FOX or FS1.  Washington at Rutgers & Colorado St. vs. Colorado could be a FS1 doubleheader on Friday 9/1.  Remember that ESPN2 comes back into play starting with Week 2, though ESPN will drop a window for the US Open women's final.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

What is STADIUM? Here's A Few Answers

I had the opportunity to interview Adam Anshell, VP of networks & live events for Silver Chalice Ventures, about STADIUM, its potential programming and how easy it will be to consume the content being provided from American Sports Network, Campus Insiders & 120 Sports.

From Adam's brief overview of STADIUM, the key point I took away is that STADIUM wants to provide a multi-platform sports network that is consumable via connected devices, Twitter, linear television, mobile devices...virtually any type of product able to receive a television signal or has internet capability.  The main difference is that STADIUM is not requiring authentication to a pay TV provider, unlike the requirements many of us have when watching ESPN online.  I suppose a comparison could be drawn to HBO Now, where you the consumer can go directly to HBO without needing a TV provider, except there's no charge for STADIUM where there's a cost for HBO Now.  With that said, I brought up how Campus Insiders currently had a deal with Sling with Sling itself being a TV provider, and he said that partnership would continue, but would be separate from STADIUM.

EDIT: Per further clarification, the Sling TV component will also be branded as STADIUM, but not part the 24/7 network.

My next question involved how much non-live event programming would come from existing partners at 120 Sports, such as MLB through Baseball Advanced Media (BAM), the PGA, the NHL and Sports Illustrated.  Adam noted that programming from those partners would be showcased on STADIUM and that they were working with those partners to determine what programming is available to be shown on STADIUM that does not run afoul of existing rights agreements and what can air exclusively via digital means vs. adding over-the-air television.

I then brought up how there was a mix of technology in use with respect to streaming on Campus Insiders and 120 Sports, and asked if there was a plan to streamline the technology to be used to serve up content both online & through native apps, as apps such as Campus Insiders haven't been updated in some time.  Adam was able to provide that the bulk of the content would be shifting to a backend being redesigned with the help of BAM along with their web portal, which will be located at when it launches over the next few months.

With respect to the content that Sinclair was bringing over as part of ASN, Adam noted that many of the programming deals ASN had in place have expired or would be expiring in the near future.  For the deals being carried forward to STADIUM, which does include Conference USA, I asked about how non-Sinclair owned and/or operated television networks would be able to view STADIUM live events and he noted that the new entity would be working to meet the contractual obligations of those deals as they carried forward to STADIUM.  He also noted there was more than one existing ASN contract coming over to the new partnership but was not able to comment on who those other entities are.

I then brought up how ASN had stretched themselves to cover multiple events within a single "telecast window" & asked if that would continue.  Adam provided that the plan was to not regionalize live events & to provide a single 24/7 network, though the digital side would have multiple live events going on.  He did allow that existing contractual obligations from ASN might require syndication of multiple games in a single window at the start.

Next, I asked about the potential for content over at Campus Insiders that was exclusive to their platform, such as live events from the Mountain West and WCC, and the feasibility of events from those entities airing on STADIUM who were not on ASN.  Similar to what he shared earlier with respect to content from professional sports entities, STADIUM was working through all existing partnerships to determine what they could delivery both digitally & over-the-air vs. digital only.

My final question involved how heavy the schedule would rely on live events vs. studio programming, and whether STADIUM would have nightly live events.  He said live events would be a differentiator and not just in the areas of football & men's basketball, but there would be a studio presence along with programming similar to what is currently presented on 120 Sports, and that schedule would be formulated over coming weeks and months.

I appreciate Adam taking some time out of his schedule to entertain these questions and I'm very interested to see how these entities execute delivery of this new platform to its various destinations both digitally & via television.  The model is very unique and I imagine others are paying attention to its successes and improvements over time.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Bowls, Upfronts With Sports & Scheduling Around Soccer

* A large portion of the bowl schedule, mostly ESPN's bowl schedule if we're being honest, was announced on Thursday.  There are four bowls remaining to be scheduled.

  • The Frisco Bowl, formerly the Miami Beach Bowl as it is moving to Frisco, TX, is awaiting its finalized date & time.  The game was recently purchased by ESPN Events from the American Athletic Conference.  As Sean O'Leary noted on my Twitter timeline, December 20th would be an ideal date to place the game as there are no bowl games that evening.

    Further, when the game was played in Miami it was played on the Monday afternoon before the last Monday Night Football game before Christmas.  With Christmas falling on a Monday year, that leaves the MNF game before Christmas on the 18th, which might be a bit far away from the holiday to expect people to take a Monday afternoon off for a bowl game.
  • The Holiday Bowl is in process of negotiating a new television agreement, and per the game's organizers, is talking to ESPN and other outlets about a new deal.  December 26th seems like the planned date ESPN is holding open for the game with three other bowl games on that date all without start times.
  • The Foster Farms Bowl, who was in the same position last offseason as the Holiday Bowl is this offseason, will be on FOX but no date has been set yet.  The last 49ers regular season game is scheduled for Christmas Eve.  If I were to guess on a bowl game date, I'd look for something on December 27 or 28.  The 29th might not be a bad date either but with the Cotton Bowl at night, that date might require a earlier start to stay away from a TV window involving a NY6 bowl.
  • The Arizona Bowl's date is set for December 30th, but is awaiting for a finalized start time.  CBSSN may be finalizing the possible men's basketball games they could be carrying that day and working to fit everything in.
* ESPN's soccer sideline reporter Julie Stewart-Binks mentioned she's be on the sidelines for the US Men's National Team World Cup qualifiers on Friday 9/1 and Thursday 10/6, which has some implications for college football programming on 9/1, particularly with respect to the two Big Ten games scheduled that evening.

With ESPN carrying the match from Harrison, NJ along with shoulder programming like pregame & postgame, it will likely be on ESPN as ESPN2 should be carrying US Open tennis & likely means ESPN will only have one football game.  Depending on the start time of the match, either Utah St. at Wisconsin or Colorado St. vs. Colorado should be on ESPN.  

Washington at Rutgers appears to fit more within the FOX family, along with whatever game ESPN doesn't take.  FS1 has the Mexican National Team's World Cup qualifier too and may not have as much sway, or any, around when that game can start.

Colorado St. vs. Colorado could conceivably end up on Pac-12 Networks, though I'm guessing that the game wasn't scheduled for a Friday to not be picked up by either FOX or ESPN.

As for 10/6, ESPN has a college football doubleheader, so soccer may end up on ESPN2.

* FOX, as a programming entity & not just the sports division, and ESPN have their upfront presentations to advertisers this week, FOX on Monday & ESPN on Tuesday.  Coupled with spring meetings from several conferences, we might see the first early season TV announcements.  I've believed that this is the time we'll see announcements regarding the Big Ten's TV deals with FOX, ESPN and CBS (can't forget the basketball deal with CBS).  AdAge reports that it has been discussed with advertising executives, so I'm unclear as to the holdup unless it is with one of the other parties.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

How I Go About Those Weekly CFB TV Guesses

I don't have much to write about at this point.  I try to stay narrowly focused on college football & men's college basketball and right now the topics are either limited or non-existent, so I figured this would be a neat "behind the curtain" post about how I've went about those weekly CFB TV guesses,  These guidelines don't apply to those ones done in advance of the season, but the guesses of the 12 day picks that would occur on Mondays during the season.

Setup work
The first things I try to make sure I do is head to media sites that FOX, CBS and ESPN operate and note the start times of the telecast windows they have scheduled for their networks.  From there, if any games have already been placed for a specific start time and/or television network, I'll try to plug them in first.  Example of those would be any Big Ten games set aside as night games and/or homecoming games set for a specific start time.  I'll also work to look for any selection rules that need to be adhered to, particularly as the season progresses.

Order of operations
From here, I'll start with the SEC and choose the game I think will air on CBS.  After that, I'll figure out any SEC game(s) to air on ESPN and SEC Network.  I usually slot the top SEC Network as the fourth best SEC game of any given week.  There are exceptions to this in the 12 day process, such as the couple weeks where CBS has two SEC games.

After that, I'll slot in the Big Ten games.  Starting this year I'll have to take into consideration the number of windows available on FOX Sports, but in previous seasons I'd place the Big Ten games, usually at 12pm and 3:30pm ET.  Also, if I felt the ACC had the best overall game for the week, I'd set that for 8pm ET on ABC to get that out of the way.

The next tier I usually slotted was a combination of the Big 12 and Pac-12.  I'd usually try to take into account the number of windows on FOX Sports along with the start times, which usually gave a reasonable indicator of which conference had the broadcast network games.  For both conferences, I'd often work backwards based on the number of Pac-12 Networks telecast windows & if FSN was scheduled for the Big 12.  With both conferences having a fixed number of games for their TV packages (ESPN & FOX Sports with 22 Pac-12 games each, ESPN with 23 Big 12 games, FOX Sports with the remaining Big 12 games minus one game per school), I can usually figure out the number of games per network in a given week, but can't always figure out who has that first choice.

I'll probably look to continue placing a portion of the Big Ten in before the Big 12 and Pac-12, but not the conference in full, now that ESPN and FOX Sports will be splitting the rights of three conferences.

The ACC comes up next.  At this point, I'll make a few adjustments as the ACC may have multiple worthwhile games compared to the Big Ten or Big 12.  I'll also use advance listings to figure our the number of ACC RSN games and if there might be split telecast window for the syndicated ACC Network.

Next up is the American, Mountain West (usually ESPN Networks only) and BYU.  Those three entities will often take up any remaining openings on ESPN Networks or CBS Sports Network.  Lastly, any openings set aside for the MAC on CBS Sports Network will get filled, along with any openings for the Sun Belt Conference.  If there's any remaining games, and there usually are, I'll note the games that would air on ESPN3.

Conference USA isn't listed here because the majority of their television appearances are set before the season and are often capped far in advance.  Usually a couple C-USA games for ESPN are set to air on ESPN Networks but don't have a network or start time finalized, so I'll set those as needed in with the other Group of Five conferences.  At the end, my goal is to make sure I don't miss listing any games, though that has happened to me lately with the early season selections.

If anything, you could look at that & say "wow, there's some clear bias towards the Power 5 when it comes to TV selections that you project", but I'd argue that I'm following the trends that the networks themselves seem to be using as they try to schedule as best they can to get people to watch their games.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Some Big Ten Notes, ESPN and Sublicensing

* The matchups for the third year of the Gavitt Tipoff between Big Ten & Big East schools should be announced in the next few weeks (they showed up on May 3rd last year).  For the first time that I can recall, there appears to be no conflicts with respect to either a Big East or Big Ten school being in another event that would preclude them from a game.

I would like to believe that Michigan St. would be involved as they are the only Big Ten school to have not appeared in the first two years, though they will face Duke in Chicago earlier in the week.

* While we wait on the Big Ten announcement of rights deals with FOX Sports and ESPN (do believe its coming, more on that in a moment), Ad Age reports that FOX Sports has already begun marketing pitches to advertising agencies and those presentations have included that FOX Sports will have Big Ten events.   I realize we, myself included, can get a bit tinfoil hat-ish when an announcement isn't immediately following credible reports from sports media, but we're in the window of the marketing junkets for the next television season and neither side would likely be willing to talk about these items in front of advertising execs if they didn't have the goods.

* You've probably heard from several outlets regarding layoffs at ESPN, and it sucks because some of those people's work you've either read or heard from them on television, radio or podcasts.  In any field, no one wants to see layoffs.  To dovetail this into why there hasn't been a Big Ten rights announcement, here's my thoughts, some of it anecdotal:

These ESPN layoffs have been rumored for multiple months, and during these months, I can't quite recall ESPN announcing any major rights acquisitions, though they were included in bid BAMTech made for the UEFA Champions League rights.  There may have been some smaller announcements.  Sure, many rights have been locked in for some time too, so there haven't necessarily been any major rights floating out there.  From a PR standpoint, I believe these layoffs had to be done far enough in advance to allow the "smoke to die down" before going in front of advertisers and saying anything about new agreements or programming initiatives (the rumored Mike Greenberg morning show).

In my opinion, with a marketing upfront in mid-May, the layoffs had to have "space", whatever that timeframe turns out to be.  I've seen, first hand, layoffs in front of me and then a major marketing initiative that had multi-million dollars committed announced within 24-48 hours.  It left those who weren't laid off with a terrible taste in their mouths and a PR staff trying to tell those who were still employed that this initiative wasn't related to those layoffs, the cost of that initiative would pay long-term dividends and was a small part of that marketing budget.

* Had someone ask about whether ESPN would either broaden sublicense agreements or adjust existing ones.

1) I don't think they'd adjust existing ones, namely because if the terms of that agreement are of a favorable price to the other party, such as CBS Sports Network with the MAC and American Athletic Conference, or presumably whatever bundle of men's basketball games CBS buys from ESPN to air on their broadcast network, what incentive does CBS have to adjust it if it increases what they pay to ESPN if those agreements are locked in for 2-3 years?

2) Could ESPN try to sublicense other properties that they aren't today?  Certainly possible, but the price point has to be right and there has to be a market for that content where others are willing to buy.  A few years back, ESPN wanted to sublicense a portion of their US Open tennis content to Tennis Channel but TC found the price ESPN had set too high.  Maybe ESPN goes back to the market to try to re-sell those items.

Over the past few years, ESPN has sold off its final year of the The Open Championship to NBC instead of working a lame duck year.  Same with rights to NHRA, which were cancelled a year early so they could start an agreement with FOX Sports.  Properties like IndyCar, which are expiring in the next 18 months and had layoffs with two on-air people, could be targeted for an early non-renewal or the possibility of the rights being sold off if a new rightsholder comes in for those races.

And if you think Longhorn Network is a good buyout target, pump the brakes.  If you think they could get out from under by selling to, say, BAMTech, note the part about ESPN (or Disney??) having to majority own BAMTech, which they do not at this time but have the option to become the majority owner over the next several years.  And, to be honest, selling to BAMTech feels like it would be an accounting trick & just moving a property over to someone else's balance sheet to make yours look good, but I don't know how Disney's balance sheet is structured.