Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Feeding Your Conference Realignment Hunger: Mountain West, Gonzaga, BYU and Others

I really don't like discussing conference realignment, but I've become more apathetic towards the topic, so I guess it doesn't hurt to touch on a few quick items regarding the news that Gonzaga is possibly considering Mountain West membership.

* As Matt Brown mentioned, and I agree, going for Gonzaga first puts BYU in a corner of sorts.  It also complicates any negotiations BYU may have had with ESPN about continuing their television contract for football rights.  The flipside for this is that the Mountain West allowed Boise St. to dictate terms of remaining in the Mountain West several years back, and some of those terms included keeping their home games tied to ESPN with some exceptions.

Mountain West rights agreements with ESPN and CBS Sports Network expire after the 2019-20 athletic year, so this might be the conference getting a jump on things, similar to the Sun Belt, though the Sun Belt had a football conference championship game to use as the reason to start discussions.

* Another item to watch when it comes to taking on Gonzaga & BYU could be their preference to maintain the TV roles KHQ/ROOT Sports Northwest & BYUtv, respectively, have today.  In the case of BYU, it may not be as hard to do as it was back when the Mountain West dealt with CSTV and Comcast's Versus.  ROOT Sports and its sister RSNs of AT&T SportsNet should be easy to incorporate.  Whether any of these schools would raise a stink over any ESPN3 / ESPN+ exclusives is another story.

* A potential complication for BYU is either buying out, cancelling or postponing tons of future football games.  Per FBSchedules, the Cougars are fully scheduled for 2019, at ten games for 2020 & 2021, and have at least six games accounted for per season through 2023.

How did Navy accomplish this?  They accepted an invite in January of 2012 but did not join in football until 2015, giving them three seasons to complete as many game contracts as possible and either buyout or cancel many other contracts.

* The WCC's TV rights come up after the 2018-19 athletic year, so this is quite pivotal for any agreement the conference attempts to negotiate.  Gonzaga & BYU can be replaced by other schools, more in physical status than in value & recognition.  If the WCC were to look to the same private, faith based institutions that make up the membership todays, I believe Seattle and Grand Canyon would be first targets.  Seattle has wanted back in the conference ever since they returned to Division I.  Grand Canyon is a bit more interesting because they are attempting to change their for-profit status.

* The WCC's new scheduling model, announced Monday, seems to be a nod to Gonzaga.  It gives the schools two more non-conference opportunities to do as they wish.  Let's be clear the changes this doesn't necessarily poke a stick at St. Mary's and its inability to get to the NCAA tournament as an at-large:
  • Top two seeds don't play until the semifinals - St. Mary's lost in the semifinals, not before that.
  • Play more home games than road games - St. Mary's played eight non-conference home games, two true road games and a neutral site multi-team event.
  • Play in a multi-team event - That box was checked.
The Gaels ticked off all those boxes.  Its about what they do with those eight home games, or maybe a couple less home games and trying out a few more home-home series.

As for the model itself of 16 conference games and the stepladder format for the conference tournament, that was the model pre-BYU & Pacific when the WCC was an eight team league.  This might have also been a precursor to a future without BYU and Gonzaga.

* If the Mountain West adds both BYU and Gonzaga, that leads to 13 schools in most sports.  The MEAC has done 13 member conference tournaments and the MAC had a period of 13 football playing members and a scheduling model for it too, so it can be done.  

New Mexico St. might be a target to get to 14 & balance things out.  The Aggies are re-entering football independence while in the WAC for others sports.  If they are being considered for membership, it could be tied to BYU and their entry.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Pac-12 MBK Final: Does Its Tie-In With FOX Sports Need Improvement?

Jon Wilner from Bay Area News Group posted his most recent Pac-12 Stock Report and brought up how the Pac-12 men's basketball championship had a significantly lower number of viewers compared to all other top basketball conferences and was significantly outpaced by the Mountain West.

I responded back to Jon about it and we had a brief conversation on it over Twitter.  I thought it was worth posting it here instead of attempting to paraphrase it.

And a brief sidebar:
True, and I think its a relevant point because for a long time the semifinals were on FSN at the times they currently are when split between Pac-12 Networks, ESPN and FS1, and then were followed by a 3pm PT start on CBS for the championship game after the Big Ten Semifinals.

I don't think Friday night is the answer regardless of where it airs.  The final does better on Saturday on ESPN because it has the lead-in of the ACC.  FOX's best lead-in, and arguably one that should help both games, is to pair them together on broadcast television.  Right now they'd had to change other scheduling considerations to make it happen (this year, a Xfinity Series race aired on FOX before the Big East Championship), but to get the most back for your buck out of both, I think you have to lobby to hook yourself to Saturday and another championship game.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Friday Night Lights: Where's Your CFB Game Potentially Airing

Friday has become more of a destination night for college football compared to Thursdays where the NFL has provided regular competition for several years, including the last four with regular simulcasts on broadcast television.  So where is your game more likely to air?  More are on the way as you can look for more Mountain West weeknight games in April & C-USA sometime in the spring.  As for what has been set, I tried to figure it out:

8/31: The Big Ten have a pair of football games here, so expect one on ESPN and one on FS1.  With Pac-12 Networks airing last year's Rocky Mountain Showdown, I could see the San Diego St. at Stanford game airing there or on ESPNU.  Boise St. at Troy might be a Friday night ESPNU candidate too, possibly hooking into something on 9/7 (keep reading).

9/7: TCU at SMU is the only Friday night game scheduled and should air on ESPN2.  CBS Sports Network could also air this one in the event ESPN had more interest in Connecticut at Boise St., and both schools are willing to move to Friday night.  With Boise St. being on the road at Troy the week before, that might not interest them though unless there was a corresponding date change for the game at Troy.

ESPN has primary rights on Boise St. home games and can move up to three Boise St. games to weeknights.  There's also some rules about CBSSN airing Boise St. home games (they have to trade one of BSU's Mountain West road games), but I wouldn't expect ESPN to give this one up.

CBSSN might also have interest in Baylor at UTSA.

9/14: Georgia St. at Memphis is currently available, but my expectation is for another game to be moved here.  I guessed Miami (FL) at Toledo earlier.  One of the Pac-12 at Mountain West matchups (Arizona St. at San Diego St. or Oregon St. at Nevada) could be considered for a move as well.

9/21: FAU at UCF seems like it was added for the purpose of airing on ESPN, which should push Penn St. at Illinois to FS1.  Washington St. at USC seems like it would be paired with FAU at UCF as part of a doubleheader.

Could a C-USA game move here for CBS Sports Network, like Virginia Tech at Old Dominion or NC State at Marshall?  Maybe, but NC State vetoed a weeknight date change for national TV when visiting Old Dominion a few years back.  Virginia Tech at Old Dominion might be more plausible.  Both could stay on Saturday with one airing on Stadium too since they'll have the chance at some higher end games from the C-USA inventory.

9/28: My expectation is that Memphis at Tulane would be on ESPN and UCLA at Colorado would air on FS1.

10/5: Look for a doubleheader of Georgia Tech at Louisville followed by Utah St. at BYU on ESPN.

10/12: I can see USF at Tulsa airing on CBS Sports Network or ESPN2 with Arizona at Utah on ESPN.  I would not expect the games to be presented as a doubleheader on ESPN.  FS1 should be out based on MLB playoff scheduling.

10/19: Colorado St. at Boise St. is set for ESPN2 and it might end up being their only game as the NBA should be in season on ESPN.  CBS Sports Network could take on a C-USA game if interested, like FAU at Marshall or Old Dominion at Western Kentucky.

10/26: FS1 is available to take games again with the end of their MLB commitments.  Indiana at Minnesota seems likely here, with ESPN taking a doubleheader of Miami (FL) at Boston College & Utah at UCLA.

11/2: This one is a bit tricky.  Pittsburgh at Virginia is likely to air on ESPN2, but Colorado at Arizona could either be paired with it or air separately on FS1 after NASCAR truck races. A hint as to whether the Pac-12 game is in play for FS1 could be whether they adjust the start time for the truck race at least 30 minutes earlier.  There was an overlap on a Truck Series race last year with the Washington at Stanford game that ticked off a lot of viewers, so maybe FOX uses FOX Business for the race in this case.

11/9: Louisville at Syracuse is the only game set for Friday at this time.  ESPN will be carrying the Armed Forces Classic MBK event, so the football game should be on ESPN2.  If there's a doubleheader, look for a Mountain West game, but if the Pac-12's China game (2018: Yale vs. California) airs on ESPN2, you'll probably not have another football game.  CBS Sports Network might also be carrying the Veterans Classic event on this Friday (might not be a doubleheader) and they have the PBR World Finals in the late evening, so they would also appear to be out.

11/16: ESPN should have several hours tied up with college basketball events like the 2K Classic and events in Charleston & Puerto Rico.  Memphis at SMU is scheduled but I can see that one going to CBSSN as they've carried Friday football at this particular point in the season in the past.  The Mountain West looks like the possible conference to take on this Friday for ESPN2.  Boise St. at New Mexico is a possibility though ESPN would need to send a Boise St. home game over to CBSSN to air that game.

11/23: Black Friday, which is more like its own mini Saturday.  This year has more games available as the PK 80 event was, so far, a one time event (NOTE: The AD who was active in getting the event off the ground recently resigned from Michigan St.).  Here's my early take on a split of games:

ESPN & ABC: Virginia at Virginia Tech, two of the American games, one Big 12 and one Pac-12 game. Look for a MAC window as well.

FOX Sports: Two Big 12, one Pac-12 and Nebraska at Iowa

CBS Sports Network: They'll have a window for either the MAC, plus either an American or Mountain West game.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Quick Look at New C-USA Rights Agreements

A few items on the new Conference USA rights agreements

* CBS Sports Network essentially picked up the ESPN portion of the rights agreement, taking on the five regular season football games plus the conference championship game in addition to the six regular season football games they already carried.  Men's basketball will also see a marginal increase in linear television exposure (two games).  To lighten their load, potentially three of those 12 football games and up to six men's basketball games will air on Facebook with a CBS production.

CBSSN has also been working on (finally) adding authenticated streaming for the TV providers they have agreements with.  Recently they added DirecTV and Dish.

And to get a five year deal with a financial bump from CBS Sports where the last set of deals were of a shorter term is nice security.  Even with the addition of three C-USA games, CBSSN should still have plenty of room if it is working on adjustments in the areas of the American, MAC or Mountain West.

* Any webcast, whether its ESPN3, Facebook or school produced is a nice extra because of how the school can work to pick the optimal start time to maximize ticket sales and still get a TV quality production.  And there are ways to push these streams to televisions, so to point to these streams and say that you can only watch them on a computer is a misnomer.

* Production costs of streams were pointed out as a reason to not go the route that the Sun Belt did with ESPN+ and those costs, depending on the contract, could lead to the conference eating up its rights fee.  For example, the previous contract with the Missouri Valley Conference called for them to pay a portion of production costs and that cost exceeded the rights fee the conference was receiving from ESPN.

* beIN Sports wasn't mentioned, but they remain a rightsholder for 2018-19.  Their agreement was one year longer than the expiring CBSSN and ESPN agreements.  Per North Texas AD Wren Baker, the conference is still talking with both them and ESPN.  The talks with ESPN might end up being about how schools can self-produce content to air on ESPN3.

* Right now, the televised game count is slightly lower, but the conference is banking on accessibility of Facebook in addition to linear TV.  Its an interesting bet.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Units earned in the 2018 NCAA 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 as of completion of 3/25 games

ACC - 21
America East - 2
American - 5
Atlantic 10 - 5
Big 12 - 19
Big East - 13
Big South - 2
Big Ten - 12
C-USA - 2
MAC - 2
Mountain West - 4
MVC - 5
Pac-12 - 3
SEC - 16
SWAC - 2
WCC - 3

16 conferences have earned a single credit.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Key Points of the Sun Belt Contract Extension with ESPN

Here's some key points I found while reading through the various releases & articles on the extended Sun Belt & ESPN rights agreement.   For your reading & audio enjoyment:

Audio Conference

* While I deal with the topic of financials far less, maybe because it's not as relevant to me, the AP is reporting the Sun Belt will increase their rights fee payment from ESPN.  I expected some form of increase in rights fee, but the conference was starting from the floor compared to many of their peers & even a doubling of their rights fee from ESPN would only result in an average per school of around $200,000 to start, with non-football members like UT Arlington & Little Rock receiving another, presumably reduced, amount.   I don't know if Idaho or New Mexico St. received any rights fee when they were affiliate members in football.  Hawai'i doesn't from the Mountain West unless certain revenue targets are met and I doubt Navy did from the American when they have had side deals for the Army-Navy game and their own home games with CBS Sports.

Per the audio teleconference, commissioner Karl Benson referred to the rights fee as being on par with other Group of Five conferences.  The MAC's purported rights fee is around $833,000 per school, $10 million to the conference per year.  If they were closer to that, then Benson is right that the increase is significant, even if the number is small by the standards set by the Power 5 conferences.

* I don't know how this affects the deal that UL-Lafayette (or Louisiana, I know there's been squawking about the branding for several years) recently signed with Cox Sports in Louisiana to televise several events in market with ESPN3 showing them out of market.  It was brought up during the audio conference, but how it fits is rather vague.  It would only cover through the remainder of the existing rights agreement, so maybe the length of the deal was on purpose due to the forthcoming ESPN extension.

* Karl Benson confirmed on the audio conference something that I suspected as for the reason for the early extension: they had to account for the addition of the football conference championship game, which was no different than what happened when the Pac-12 and Big Ten added conference championship games in the middle of their television agreements (I believe the American's was negotiated as part of the commencement of their rights agreement with Navy as an incoming member).  ESPN may have had the first crack at negotiating to carry any football championship as part of their existing contract and used the opportunity to look forward and stock some college sports content for their upcoming add-on service, ESPN+, which is not to be confused with the entity ESPN Regional Television ran for several years to syndicate college sports content from several conferences & schools.

* Not mentioned: ESPNews.  I suspect the Sun Belt would gladly take any appearance on that network, but unlike the American & Mountain West press releases of prior years where ESPNews was listed as a potential outlet, I suspect the focus for linear pay TV was ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU.

(Side note since it debuted this past week - CBS Sports HQ, the new digital sports news channel from CBS, looks a lot like ESPNews, and maybe that's where ESPNews should be headed full time.  Back to the Belt)

* In terms of linear TV, I found the increases to be on the small side, but I didn't expect a lot more appearances, though it could be viewed under the prism of less schools involved on the football side.  To the nitty gritty:
  • A minimum of three additional football games will air on linear television.  The previous minimum of seven increases to ten.  If you're looking at 2018, so far the minimum has not been met, so you might see a game added as part of the early season selections, such as Boise St. at Troy, or the seventh game may be the conference championship game.
  • Per the audio conference, the football championship game is committed for Saturday as the day of the week.  
  • An increase to a minimum of six appearances in men's basketball, which is on par with how many appearances they had in regular season intraconference play (3 games X 2 teams = 6 appearances) in 2017-18.  The previous minimum was four appearances.
  • The schools, to produce digital content for ESPN, will have to upgrade equipment to do so.  Some more than others.  No different from what other conferences, like the MAC, Atlantic Sun, SoCon & others, have had to do, but there are expenses behind that.
  • The content for ESPN+ is still being decided and how much & quickly it moves from ESPN3 is to being determined, so we might know a lot more in the spring.

I don't know that I would use everything about this extension as a barometer for any future contract negotiations with ESPN, but I would expect ESPN+ to be discussed at every one of them.  As mentioned, the dialog for this agreement started with the rights for the football championship game and it morphed into this extension.

The Sun Belt schools weren't receiving a lot of TV money previously and typically received the least amount of linear TV exposure of the FBS conferences.  This agreement, by 2020, would put them closer to the level that the MAC receives on ESPN, ESPN2 & ESPNU (right around 12 games) in football.  The big addition is that the inventory that many schools retained for themselves, sometimes in men's basketball but mostly in all other sports other than football, will move over time to the ESPN+ umbrella.   

What will be worth watching is whether conferences who currently have established relationships with ESPN & who have organized some content outside of those agreements under digital umbrellas, like the American, Mountain West and WCC, would be willing to move that content to ESPN+ for an additional fee.  Another item worth considering, particularly for the MAC and American, is whether it is more valuable to maintain that ESPN provide as much linear television opportunities as possible, specifically when it comes to the sublicensing arrangements ESPN has with CBS Sports Network, or would they be willing to move that content over to ESPN+ for an increase in rights fee.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Way Too Early 2018 CFB TV Guesses: Week Three

Week 3

* I moved Miami (FL) at Toledo to Friday for ESPN.  I didn't think Georgia St. at Memphis warranted being on primary ESPN based on the matchup, so that's why ESPNU was used here.  I realize the Toledo game wasn't moved when the MAC schedule was announced, but they do occasionally move games after the schedule is announced.

Two other scenarios for the Friday night game if Georgia St. at Memphis isn't scheduled to air on ESPN:

  • A Big 12 games moves to a Friday night.  That might affect the order of the games selected in the Big 12 and could move one of the SEC Network games to either ESPN2 or ESPNU.
  • Arkansas St. at Tulsa airs on CBSSN on Saturday, moving either Oregon St. at Nevada or Arizona St. at San Diego St. to ESPN.

* UFC is rumored to have a PPV event in Moscow during this week, holding Olympic Stadium on Friday & Saturday.  I think the PPV prelims could be in the mid-afternoon on FS1 (4pm ET = 11pm in Moscow).  A MLB game is scheduled for FS1 at 7pm as well.

* I gave the top Big Ten, Big 12 & Pac-12 selections to ESPN.  For those of you scoring at home, that means I had ESPN selecting Ohio St. vs. TCU over USC at Texas.

* Yes, I short-windowed Alabama at Ole Miss.  The trend I've seen with Pac-12 games is that they seem to want a TV window starting no later than 8pm local time, which is why Washington at Utah is at 10pm ET.

* Because I had five games for the Pac-12 Networks to handle, assuming one isn't moved to another night of the week, I took the two Bay Area games and put the Cal game on the Bay Area feed after the Stanford game, but staggering the start time of the Cal game so that it should be available to view in full on the Bay Area feed.

If a game isn't listed, assume it is on a streaming service where the home school has more control over start time.  The link at the top has all games currently set for TV this week.

All times Eastern.

8pm ESPN: Miami (FL) at Toledo
8pm ESPNU: Georgia St. at Memphis

12pm ABC: Florida St. at Syracuse
12pm ESPN: USF vs. Illinois
12pm ESPN2: Colorado St. at Florida
12pm ESPNU: Kent St. at Penn St.
12pm FS1: Missouri at Purdue
12pm FS2: Houston at Texas Tech
12pm FSN: UTSA at Kansas St.
12pm SEC: UTEP at Tennessee
12pm SEC: Marshall at South Carolina
12pm BTN: Northern Iowa at Iowa
12pm BTN: Troy at Nebraska
12pm ACC RSNs: UCF at North Carolina
12pm CBSSN: Hawai'i at Army
12:20pm ACC Network: Georgia Southern at Clemson
2pm Pac-12: New Hampshire at Colorado
3:30pm ABC: SMU at Michigan
3:30pm CBS: LSU at Auburn
3:30pm ESPN: West Virginia at NC State
3:30pm ESPN2: Oklahoma at Iowa St.
3:30pm ESPNU: East Carolina at Virginia Tech
3:30pm FSN: Rutgers at Kansas
3:30pm FS2: Duke at Baylor
3:30pm ACC RSNs: Georgia Tech at Pittsburgh
3:30pm CBSSN: Lehigh at Navy
3:30pm BTN: Akron at Northwestern
3:30pm BTN: Miami (OH) at Minnesota
4pm SEC: UL-Monroe at Texas A&M
4pm SEC: Murray St. at Kentucky
4pm ESPNEWS: Arkansas St. at Tulsa
4:30pm FOX: USC at Texas
5pm Pac-12: Idaho St. at Stanford
7pm ESPN: Alabama at Ole Miss
7pm ESPN2: Boise St. at Oklahoma St.
7pm ESPNU: North Texas at Arkansas
7pm CBSSN: Oregon St. at Nevada
7:30pm SEC: UL-Lafayette at Mississippi St.
7:30pm SEC: Middle Tennessee at Georgia
7:30pm BTN: Ball St. at Indiana
7:30pm BTN: Temple at Maryland
8pm ABC: Ohio St. vs. TCU
8pm Pac-12: Eastern Washington at Washington St.
8:30pm FOX: BYU at Wisconsin
8:30pm Pac-12 Bay Area: Idaho St. at California
10pm ESPN: Washington at Utah
10:30pm FS1: Fresno St. at UCLA
10:30pm ESPN2: San Jose St. at Oregon
10:30pm CBSSN: Arizona St. at San Diego St.
11pm Pac-12: Southern Utah at Arizona