Saturday, December 30, 2017

Looking Forward to the 2018-19 Collegiate Athletic Year

I rounded up a few items that I felt would be worth keeping an eye on coming into the 2018-19 college athletics year with respect to television & scheduling.  I did note a handful of items with respect to early season selections and I'll do more in-depth items on those later in the winter.

Here we go:

FOX Sports RSNs moving to Disney

For the 2018 season, I don't think you're going to see a dramatic shift in operations at least right away as the timetable for the sale of assets from 21st Century FOX to Disney appears to be at least 12-18 months, which should take the sale's completion well past the end of the season.  It could have more of a potential impact in the area of college basketball.

With that said, FOX Sports might look to seed a few more college football & basketball games on FS2 instead of FSN where they can, potentially preparing for a RSN-less future.

Conference USA back to the negotiating table

Conference USA is heading back to the market with most of their rights as their deals with ESPN, CBS Sports Network and Stadium all expire in the spring of 2018.

John Ourand of Sports Business Daily, in his predictions for 2018, noted that the Mountain West might be the first to jump more towards streaming, but I could certainly see C-USA beating them to the punch.  The conference will have 18 men's basketball games on Facebook out of 33 games that Stadium is producing.

More breathing room on CBS Sports Network?

At the moment, Navy's home football games have reverted back to the inventory the American provides to ESPN, with the exception of the "home" game vs. Notre Dame that CBS retained an option to carry in 2018, which if CBS were to carry is virtually certain to be a night game unless they were allowed to carry the game on CBS Sports Network due to the game's location in 2018 (San Diego) and the fact that the game is the same day as Georgia vs. Florida (10/27/18), which CBS is more likely than not to carry & must be played in the afternoon.

Getting back to Navy, ESPN now holds the rights to those games, but at this moment, the sublicense of American games to CBS Sports Network has not increased in the number of games (up to 15 games per season), so CBSSN could end up doing any of the following:
  1. Increase the number of American games they sublicense from ESPN
  2. Take a few of the Mountain West games that typically air at 10pm or 10:30pm ET and move them to earlier time slots where appropriate
  3. Offer some of those slots to Conference USA during rights negotiations
  4. Use more of the sublicensed MAC games from ESPN on Saturdays instead of weeknights, though that is dependent on the MAC schedule composition.
Another place to keep an eye on at CBS & CBS Sports Network: Big East scheduling.  Their agreement with FOX Sports for the Big East ends after the 2018-19 athletic year.  The reconstruction of FOX Sports under a few less outlets could put a focus on this agreement and whether FOX will keep more of these games for their outlets (FOX, FS1, FS2) or move more games to CBS Sports Network as scheduling permits as today's agreement allows for up to 30 games total to CBS & CBSSN (up to five games on CBS).

Final season of Raycom Sports' ACC Network

Raycom's ACC sublicense ends after the 2018-19 athletic year, with most of their content expected to populate the ESPN operated ACC Network.  With the agreement with Altice for carriage of the ACC Network, look for some initial ramp-up in terms of awareness towards consumers that this content is moving elsewhere and that you'll need a new channel in 2019 to see it.

To be honest, I don't have any sense of what Raycom could invest in or stay involved with as a primary producer of college sports.  I believe they own a fair amount of production equipment and could stay involved in providing production support to regional entities and the ACC Network as needed.  Frankly, ESPN could make use of that support once they take in the FOX Sports RSNs.

Random stuff

* Oklahoma is unique out of all the Big 12 schools in that their member retained game ends up on pay-per-view.  I do wonder if either FOX Sports or ESPN will want the opener vs. FAU for their national packages while having to designate the game as member retained (I don't see this happening for the UCLA game).

FAU at Oklahoma also happens to be the only Big 12 controlled game in Week One that involves two FBS schools.

* I think ESPN will figure out how to keep all of those SEC neutral site games during Week One.  They've already moved LSU vs. Miami (FL) to Sunday.  I think they could air two each on ABC & ESPN.  With that said upfront, I think it would leave CBS without a sublicensed SEC game for this particular week and they'd end up taking one of those selections later in the season, similar to what they did in 2017.

If ESPN were to determine that they can't air one of those games, in my opinion, the Chick-Fil-A game in Atlanta, which has previously been sublicensed to CBS, or the Tennessee vs. West Virginia game in Charlotte would be targets to move.  ESPN Events has a stake in both the Advocare Texas Kickoff in Houston & the Camping World Kickoff in Orlando.  Because of those stakes, I think those are less likely to air outside of ABC or ESPN Networks.

* Both Arizona & Arizona St. are at home on 9/1, hosting BYU & UTSA, respectively.  If neither FOX nor ESPN is interested in either of those games, look for one of them to move their game to Thursday or Friday evening.  Both schools strongly prefer night games in September and the Pac-12 Networks do not have the space to provide them to be played concurrently.

* For a pair of items that rotate on a yearly basis, ESPN has the Big 12 Championship and, I believe, the top priority pick in the Pac-12, where FOX has the Pac-12 Championship and the top choice of which week they want to select first in the Big 12.

I think FOX will use the top Big 12 choice on the week of the Red River Rivalry and maybe attempt to pair it with a NLDS game like they tried in 2016 (the MLB game ended up be rained out), but I look at picking 2nd on 9/15 (either USC at Texas or Ohio St. vs. TCU from Jerry's World) as valuable too.  As for the Pac-12, Notre Dame at USC looks like the most valuable non-conference game, so after that your guess is as good as any.  USC at Arizona (9/29, Khalil Tate vs. defending Pac-12 champs) & UCLA at Oregon (11/3, Chip Kelly's return to Eugene) seem like they'll have good storylines attached to them

* I'm also interested to see if ESPN is working to move one of their conference championship games to Friday night.  Will the MAC move back to Friday?  I expect the Big 12 Championship on ABC, so that would in theory leave the American on ESPN, unless a tripleheader was attempted and any tripleheader would mean a game opposite the SEC Championship on CBS.

The Sun Belt adding a championship game to the mix isn't as big of a deal though as they've had games on Championship Saturday on ESPN2 the last two seasons, so they can be worked into the mix.

And all of this math assumes a place for the C-USA Championship on ESPN or ESPN2 which I suppose isn't guaranteed.

* For games scheduled for weeknights outside of Labor Day weekend, there's a lot to be announced and those will come out as schedules appear for 2018 from the ACC, American and Mountain West.  My initial impression is that ESPN will have Texas Tech at TCU on Thursday 10/11, Arizona at Utah on Friday 10/12 & Stanford at Arizona St. on Thursday 10/18 due to FS1's MLB postseason commitments.  While FS1 could conceivable not have MLB those days, I don't think they can count on it, nor count on the possibility of weather related issues changing dates/times.

* The two new FBS independents, Liberty and New Mexico St., both have a wealth of experience when it comes to being able to produce their own telecasts in football.  Liberty has had their Liberty Flames Sports Network and New Mexico St.'s AggieVision has been around since their time in the WAC and through one independent season before they moved to the Sun Belt.  Both productions regularly made it to ESPN3 along with RSNs.  I'd expect that to continue.


daniel anderson said...

Arizona & Arizona St. are at home on 9/1, hosting BYU & UTSA, respectively. I could see ESPN maybe getting one of those, but since Pac-12 Networks do not have the space to provide them to be played concurrently, i can see ESPN getting one of those.

Howard Salwasser said...

Do you see CBS going without a week 2 SEC game this season and save the extra sublicense for later in the year?

Matt Sarzyniak said...

"I think ESPN will figure out how to keep all of those SEC neutral site games during Week One. They've already moved LSU vs. Miami (FL) to Sunday. I think they could air two each on ABC & ESPN. With that said upfront, I think it would leave CBS without a sublicensed SEC game for this particular week and they'd end up taking one of those selections later in the season, similar to what they did in 2017."