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If the to-be-renamed Big East “loses two more schools to conference realignment, the league's seven-year media rights deal can be terminated,” according to sources cited by Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com. Sources said the deal, which was formally announced yesterday, is worth $126M. ESPN last month “matched an offer made by NBC Sports Network and was awarded the Big East's media rights.” Because it is the “primary rights holder, it was able to retain the conference's media rights simply by matching the league's best offer.” But sources said that ESPN “could only match NBC Sports Network's deal and not change the language of the contract.” Sources said that the NBC deal “divided the league into Group A (Connecticut, Cincinnati, Houston and Temple) and Group B (the remaining members).” The media rights deal “can be terminated if either two Group A schools leave or one Group A and one Group B school leave.” Sources said that if "two Group B schools leave, the contract will be renegotiated” (ESPN.com, 3/19). With the agreement, ESPN will have exclusive worldwide distribution rights across all media. All sports will be covered by the deal from '14-15 through '19-20, following a bridge year for the conference’s basketball rights in '13-14. The net will have rights to all basketball games -- including the conference championship -- that are not covered by CBS. ESPN Senior VP/College Sports Programming Burke Magnus said that the deal allows for a limited sub-license to other national broadcasters or RSNs. Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco said a network deal for basketball rights that “dovetails” with the ESPN deal will be announced “in all likelihood next week.” Games will be available across ESPN, ESPN2, ABC, ESPNU, ESPNEWS and ESPN3, as well as mobile and digital via the WatchESPN authenticated service (Andrew Westney, Staff Writer).
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS OUT? Aresco said that the league “will not play home Monday or Tuesday football games but will schedule games on Thursdays and Fridays.” He said the league will be “very sensitive” regarding home scheduling for the Univ. of Houston and SMU to the potential for competition with Texas high school football games on Thursdays and Fridays and "will work with (schools) and our partners" on scheduling issues in Texas (CHRON.com, 3/19).
STEADY AS SHE GOES: CBSSPORTS.com’s Dennis Dodd reported Navy as part of the deal will “retain the television rights to its home and selected rivalry games.” Navy is “committed to joining” the new conference in ‘15 as a football-only member. However, it will “keep its home TV rights with CBS/CBS Sports Network” through ‘17. In addition, Navy's home game with Notre Dame will be televised on CBS in ‘14 and ‘16, “with an option” for ‘18. The Army-Navy game is “committed to CBS” through ‘18. A CBS spokesperson said that there “would be no comment, but pointed out that Navy's deal is part of an existing contract” (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/19).
PEACEFUL, EASY FEELING: Aresco yesterday dismissed media reports of member schools disagreeing about the division of revenue. He said, “Nothing could be further from the truth. There has been no infighting at all regarding distribution of money. ... We have a fair amount of revenue, some of which we would have preferred not to have gathered in, obviously, as some of it was the result of exit fees and that sort of thing. On the other hand, those revenues and other revenues in our conference will be equitably distributed and there has been no infighting at all. It has been a very cordial, very straightforward process” (Westney).
NAME GAME: Aresco said that the conference “should have a name by late April or early May,” and the process of “picking a brand is ongoing.” In Hartford, Paul Doyle notes Aresco “offered no candidates.” Aresco said, “We know we need to move expeditiously. We've been very deliberate about this. We have a process, we have branding groups we're working with. We've developed a process where we're going to obviously go through names that reflect what our conference is, what our conference wants to be, what we're aspiring to be” (HARTFORD COURANT, 3/20). Aresco said fans are “like a national focus group” for the renaming process. He added that the conference will work with ESPN on the rebranding. But he clarified it is “our decision” and ESPN has “never once asked us about a name” (Westney).
ESPN drew one of its strongest ratings ever during the regular season for the Heat's two-point win Monday over the Celtics, which extended the team's winning streak to 23 games, but the NBA's broadcast partners may not be able to capitalize on the Heat's quest to break the Lakers' 41-year-old streak of 33 games as much as they may want to. ESPN is only scheduled to have one more Heat game this season -- next Wednesday’s matchup against the Bulls (potential win No. 27) -- while ABC will air the April 14 Bulls-Heat game. ESPN and ABC will then be maxed out on appearances by the Heat, as the nets will have shown the team 10 and five times, respectively. TNT also only has one scheduled Heat game left before it hits its max of 10 broadcasts, the April 2 matchup against the Knicks (win No. 31). The Heat play the Bucks on April 9 in what would be the record-setting 34th consecutive win, and an ESPN spokesperson said the net would be able to show live cut-ins of the game on its "NBA Coast To Coast" whip-around show. However, it could not air the entire game. NBA TV could be the beneficiary of ESPN and TNT's misfortune, as the April 9 game likely will be among those up for selection in the net's weekly Fan Night pick. NBA TV is scheduled to air at least one game on the road to 34 -- the Easter night showdown against the Western Conference-leading Spurs (win No. 30) -- as well as the April 12 game against the Celtics. Sun Sports has the regional rights to both the April 9 game and the potential record-tying game against the 76ers on April 6.
BIG MARKS FOR MONDAY'S GAME: ESPN finished with a 2.5 U.S. rating and 3.8 million viewers for Monday's Heat-Celtics game. That marks the net’s fourth-best NBA regular-season audience on record. Heat games have accounted for two of ESPN’s top five most-viewed NBA games this season. For the season to date (64 games), ESPN is averaging a 1.2 rating and 1.8 million viewers. TNT has seen Heat games account for three of its five most-viewed games this season. Through 42 NBA telecasts, TNT is averaging a 1.4 rating and 2.1 million viewers.MOST-VIEWED NBA REGULAR-SEASON GAMES ON ESPN
FOR '12-13 SEASON TO DATEDATE
MATCHUPRATINGVIEWERS (000)3/18 Heat-Celtics2.53,78712/25 Celtics-Nets2.23,7391/4 Lakers-Clippers2.13,08611/2 Clippers-Lakers2.13,06211/2 Heat-Knicks1.82,783MOST-VIEWED NBA REGULAR-SEASON GAMES ON TNT
FOR '12-13 SEASON TO DATEDATE
MATCHUPRATINGVIEWERS (000)10/30 Celtics-Heat3.45,37110/30 Mavericks-Lakers2.94,2981/17 Heat-Lakers2.33,5472/14 Heat-Thunder2.23,3913/5 Lakers-Thunder2.23,339
In L.A., Joe Flint reports Liberty Media is "acquiring 27% of cable television operator Charter Communications" for $2.62B. The deal is "significant because it marks the first time in almost 20 years" that Liberty Media Chair John Malone has had "ownership in a U.S. cable operator." Malone, whose company owns the Braves, is "joining Charter's board at a time when cable companies are becoming increasingly vocal about the rise in programming costs, particularly sports." Malone "too has recently complained that sports rights are out of control" (L.A. TIMES, 3/20). Morgan Stanley analyst Benjamin Swinburne said that Malone "could help Charter negotiate more aggressively by dropping weak channels or pushing for sports networks to be offered in separate pricing tiers" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 3/20).
FATHERS' DAY: In San Diego, Matthew Hall reports high-level execs from Time Warner Cable and FS San Diego yesterday met in N.Y. to "discuss an impasse that has kept 185,000 televisions dark in San Diego County during Padres games" since the start of the '12 season. Few details emerged about "what was said, who was there or what might happen next" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 3/20).
FEELING PUNCHY: In Chicago, Fred Mitchell reports Comcast SportsNet Bulls analyst Kendall Gill has been “removed from on-air duties after being involved in a physical altercation with Big Ten Network analyst Tim Doyle” yesterday. The incident “occurred after a taping of ‘Sports Talk Live’” in the CSN newsroom. CSN in a statement released last night said that Gill will “be off the air at least temporarily while the matter is being investigated.” Gill today said that he was “unable to talk about the incident.” He added, “We have to let everything play out” (CHICAGOTRIBUNE.com, 3/20).
WINDS OF CHANGE: Blogger Ed Sherman reported the lineup at ESPN Radio 1000 Chicago "has been shuffled," as local hosts Tom Waddle and Marc Silverman are "moving from mid-morning" to 2:00-6:00pm CT. Also, Carmen DeFalco and John Jurkovic "will shift" to 10:00am-2:00pm. The station's "new addition" will be an hour of Colin Cowherd’s national ESPN show, airing from 9:00-10:00am. Gone will be ESPN's show with Scott Van Pelt and Ryen Russillo, which "currently airs" from 1:00-2:00pm on the station (SHERMANREPORT.com, 3/19).