SBD/August 3, 2011/Media

Big East Likely To See Large Increase In TV Revenues In New Deal

Marinatto optimistic Big East will see much more lucrative TV deal
Though the Big East's "immediate on-field football prospects look foggy, its television and financial future has never been brighter," and following the announcement of the Pac-12's TV deal last week, the Big East "is poised to cash in," according to Pete Thamel of the N.Y. TIMES. The conference's annual $37.5M TV revenue "could easily increase to more than $200 million annually," which is why Commissioner John Marinatto "couldn't stop smiling" yesterday at the conference's football media day. The event was attended by the "A-list television executives from ESPN, Fox and NBC." NBC Sports and Versus President of Programming Jon Miller "attended the event with" Fox Sports CFO Larry Jones. Additionally, nine execs from ESPN "were on the guest list," including ESPN Senior VP/College Sports Programming Burke Magnus, who said that the market for college sports was "vibrant for a simple reason." Magnus: "A year ago, it was a very different marketplace. Comcast and NBC were not a part of the equation. I don't think it's any more complicated than that, to be honest with you" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/3). The Big East has two seasons left on a six-year contract with ESPN, and Marinatto called the upcoming talks the "most important television negotiations in our history." Marinatto: "The bottom line is the next round of media negotiations will propel the Big East to a place where we will again achieve equity with other major conferences in both revenue and exposure" (USA TODAY, 8/3).

SOMETIMES IT'S BETTER TO WAIT: In Boston, Mark Blaudschun writes the "elephant in the room" yesterday was the "future of the Big East in terms of expansion and a long-term television contract." The conference "had an offer on the table from ESPN for nearly $11 million per team in May," but Marinatto "sees something in the $19 million-$23 million-per-team range." Marinatto: "How would we look if we had accepted the ESPN offer and then someone else offered much more than that in the next several months? Why rush? We still have time. And we are talking. They are here right now" (BOSTON GLOBE, 8/3). In N.Y., Dick Weiss notes Marinatto has "decided to explore all his options before sitting down with ESPN in September of 2012" for the net's 60-day exclusive negotiating window. The Big East is "gambling that other TV networks are just as desperate for live sports programming, if not more." Rutgers Univ. football coach Greg Schiano: "I'm optimistic this will be a game-changer. Save just a natural disaster, it's going to happen. The incremental difference is huge in what we're receiving and what we will receive" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/3).

TRYING TO LOOK GOOD FOR TV: In N.Y., Lenn Robbins notes several TV execs and media consultants have said that the Big East "would be best served if it parted with some non-football schools," and Marinatto "stopped short of saying that never would happen." Marinatto: "My job is to find ways to make things work. That's not an easy thing to do when you're representing schools with various commitments." Should the league "secure a deal similar to the Pac-12's $4 billion deal over 12 years, it could allot higher slices of the pie for schools that play BCS football and smaller slices for others." That "could force some schools to consider other league affiliation." Meanwhile, Marinatto said that conference expansion and a new TV deal "go hand-in-hand." Sources said that the commissioner "has had face-to-face meetings with every school that reportedly has interest in joining the Big East, or that the league might consider adding." One league source said that the conference "has long eyed Army and Navy." Robbins also noted one idea "being floated" is "alternating the television rights to the men's basketball tournament." The Big East "could strike deals with Comcast/NBC, which sources said will be a major player in the upcoming negotiations, and Fox, in which the networks alternate years televising the men's and women's basketball tournaments" (N.Y. POST, 8/3).

STRONGER OFF FIELD THAN ON: ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel wrote the "ebullience that Marinatto exuded" yesterday "seemed divorced from the reality on the field." Big East football champion UConn "got humiliated in the Fiesta Bowl" last season, and "no team won more than nine games." The Big East is a league "built on the foundation of basketball." However, Marinatto yesterday said, "Football drives the train. There's no question about it. Football is the engine that makes it go." Maisel wrote the "reason Marinatto is brimming with confidence has nothing to do with the league's football," but has "everything to do with the eyeballs that it claims it will deliver to the networks." The Big East "has a school in seven of the nation's top 14 media markets," and TCU "will arrive next year, bringing the No. 5 media market with it" (ESPN.com, 8/2). In Hartford, Jeff Jacobs writes under the header, "Next Big East TV Contract Most Important Ever." Jacobs writes the one thought that "kept pounding" in his head yesterday was that Marinatto is "mighty confident." Marinatto "looked and sounded so much more confident than he did in April 2010 at the annual meeting among" the 11 FBS conference commissioners, at which time schools were "threatening to jump all over the place." Marinatto said, "Our basketball gives us a halo. I believe our conference is the best by far in basketball. Our basketball drives our value." But Jacobs wondered, "How is he going to continue to keep this crazy quilt of a conference together? How is he going to find a way to divvy revenues for potentially up to 20 schools? ... Like it or not, money talks in big-time college sports. And when you get down to it, every other issue pales" (HARTFORD COURANT, 8/3).

PERCEPTION NEEDS TO CHANGE: In Newark, Steve Politi writes the other BCS conferences are "always a step in front of the Big East, pulling further ahead in perception and revenue, and most importantly, better positioning themselves to survive in the shifting landscape of college sports." Politi: "That has to change now. The Big East, through its good fortune of being the last conference to negotiate a new TV deal after the other conferences raised the market to new heights, is suddenly in a position of power." Marinatto "spoke like a confident man yesterday." Big East football schools are paid "about $6 million under the current contract with ESPN," and the league "turned down a new deal with the network that would have doubled that." Politi writes, "This is when we'll see if Marinatto ... is up for this job. It's time to see if he has the kind of big, bold ideas the sport has seen from his high-profile counterparts" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 8/3).
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