Saturday, December 21, 2019

SEC Goes All-In With ESPN?

First, read this from Sports Business Journal.

* My first take is that CBS did make a credible offer.  They knew the value of 15 football games plus seven MBK games was more than $55 million and it wasn't just 2x or 4x, it was somewhere between 5x-6x.  To me, that's not a lowball offer.  Clearly not bid winning, but not standing pat.

Also sounds like CBS truly didn't have a right of first refusal if both ESPN & FOX were able to make offers and talk contractual terms this far in advance.

* Assuming FOX doesn't come in with a bid that blows away ESPN, I believe you'll see changes in a few places, both related to having all rights under one roof:

  • Less exclusive windows.  If there's a SEC game on ABC. its quite possible that you'll see a SEC game programmed on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU.  The SEC on CBS was one of the last places television window exclusivity existed.  With everything under one roof, I assume that changes.
  • More SEC in primetime on ABC.  How many?  Its hard to say, but my guess is that it would be more than one.
  • Possibly no more appearance limits.  CBS was limited to showing five games involving a SEC school, excluding the conference championship game.  Those limits are put in place to protect the secondary rightsholder, in this case ESPN, so that their rights agreement retains value and that they have the chance to select games from every school.  Otherwise CBS could choose Alabama every week if it desired.  With everything under one rood, ESPN no longer has that need to be protected, especially from itself. 
  • Maybe more gamesmanship on where the "best" SEC game airs every week.  The appearance limits that CBS had imposed on them do influence selection orders, but that could lead to the occasional gaming of the system by ESPN.  Maybe the best game is to be in primetime on ESPN instead of ABC, therefore, is it the 2nd best game on ABC and is it at 12pm instead?
* Remember that this doesn't take effect until the 2024-25 athletic year unless arrangements are made to release CBS from their obligations.  Expiration dates for other P5 rights agreements:
  • Big 12: 2024-25
  • Big Ten: 2022-23 (see note re: BTN below)
  • Pac-12: 2023-24
So all three of these would know the landscape far in advance.

* CBS can always pour that money into another NFL deal down the road and with NFL rights, down the road is never far away.  Thursday Night Football, until the recent five year deal with FOX, was usually a 1-2 year deal, sometimes with year two as an option.  The 2022 season seems to be the big year for nearly all agreements.

CBS also is spending to retain PGA Tour rights and Mountain West rights.

* I made some comments that CBS could look to the Big Ten and one of the incumbent packages.  Let me reiterate a couple items and expand in other areas, because I also wasn't thinking about the entire picture:
  • Just because CBS is coming in doesn't mean they would automatically go for FOX Sports' package of rights.  ABC/ESPN's could be in play too.  FOX does have a long term relationship with the conference via BTN, but the BTN deal is on a different timeline as it ends after 2031-32.  That said, its a relationship that has been strengthened over the years.
  • When I was discussing this via Twitter on Friday night, I made mention of how CBS could, in theory, pick up a football package and not have to televise any of them on CBS Sports Network. Pick them up, distribute them wherever you want and in this case, broadcast TV.  Roughly a doubleheader a week.

    Where I didn't think this through is the extra items that would get picked up like men's basketball.  CBS could take some of those men's basketball games for broadcast TV and strengthen their existing package of games, but the conference wouldn't be as likely to accept CBSSN as it stands right now.  They'd either have to carve a lot of the basketball games out of the deal, take them on and sublicense them to other entities, or keep them and figure out another place for them.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Mountain West Rights Agreements On The Move

* First, read this from Sports Business Journal as it gives the initial highlights of the Mountain West rights moving from ESPN to FOX Sports and remaining with CBS Sports.

Here's the items running through my head
* The article mentions Boise St. and Hawai'i with separate agreements.  Don't know if Boise St. just gets paid more to have their football games move over to FOX Sports or if they can have their home games remain with ESPN. 

Maybe the Broncos would be amenable to a 10am start if the opponent is worthwhile and FOX is convinced it would draw, or if their choices from the Big Ten and Big 12 are limited.  Or maybe something special around when Air Force hosts Army or Navy.  Again, I think FOX would need to be convinced it would draw.

Hawai'i's issue isn't a national TV deal, but their expiring agreement with Spectrum Sports for carriage of several sports, not just football.  Spectrum uses football to help recoup costs as it is distributed via pay-per-view within the state and shown via streaming externally.  Hawai'i typically had to have seven football games shown via PPV for them to get their full payout.  They did not receive television money from the Mountain West agreements.  Remember that they are an affiliate member of the Mountain West and a full member of the Big West.

* Does this hurt ESPN all that much?  I'm not certain it does.  It might help in terms of the content that they could be replacing it with.  Many of those Saturday Mountain West games air late evenings on ESPN2 and ESPNU.  ESPN+ happens to carry a lot of UFC and Top Rank Boxing.  Maybe an event or two in spring or summer ends up on ESPN+ instead of linear TV while a late summer or fall event shows up on ESPN or ESPN2. 

As for football, the Sun Belt had a slight increase in their minimum number of games starting in 2020 as their new rights agreement officially kicks in.  Maybe another weeknight game or two for them.

* Placement of the football games should be interesting.  Will FS2 be allowed for any games?  Depending on the number of football games FOX Sports is paying for, it will be a tighter squeeze to get games on FS1 on Saturdays without some creative scheduling, likely involving some weeknight games. 

* Did the conference ask for more certainty in start times from FOX Sports vs. the flexibility of the 12 day assignment that ESPN provided?

* Did CBS maintain their priority pick status in football and, I believe, men's basketball?  CBS was allowed to take a few games, six to eight games is the range that sticks in my mind, and reserve those.  I believe that was a bit of an equalizer since Boise St.'s home games could not be chosen to air on CBSSN, with the exception of ESPN being allowed to trade one Boise St. home game to CBS for one of the school's road games.

* I don't get the feeling that the conference's men's basketball schedule rotation has to change.  Currently the Mountain West is on a Wednesday-Saturday rotation, with the allowance of games being moved to Tuesday or Sunday for TV purposes.

* Did anything swap from the ESPN, now FOX Sports, package over to CBS?  Did anything get tied into these rights agreement that wasn't in place?  The conference's football championship was initially aired on CBS when they had the first crack at negotiating for it.  The game switched to ESPN when CBS declined to continue as the rightsholder after a two year agreement, but it seemed to be its own agreement independent of all other items.  Did the men's basketball championship stay with CBS Sports?

* Last, and not least: Are AT&T Sports continuing as a regional partner for football and men's basketball?  Is Stadium continuing as the "inventory" streaming partner, along with a handful of elevated streaming productions that have aired on Facebook, plus several other sports that air regularly on Stadium for the conference, like women's basketball?