SBJ/September 4 - 10, 2006/This Weeks News

Big East picks ESPN over starting own network

While the Big East was negotiating its latest television deal with ESPN over the past several months, it seriously considered launching its own TV network, following the recent example of the Big Ten and Mountain West conferences.

Given the growth of cable and broadband, conferences are focusing less on a home for high-dollar sports and more on Olympic sports.
But the Big East eventually decided too many risks were associated with setting up its own regional sports network and opted to go the safer route to guaranteeing wider distribution for its programming for a rights fee that’s said to be close to $200 million over the six-year deal.

“I want our fan base to see our games,” Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese said last week when announcing the conference’s deal to stay with ESPN, with whom it has had a relationship since 1979.

The Big East’s announcement came just three days before the launch of the nation’s first college conference RSN, Mountain West’s The mtn., and illustrated the thought process every conference will go through as their current TV deals expire (see related story).

Essentially, conferences have two choices. They can launch their own network and control their programming and ad inventory, similar to the Big Ten and Mountain West. Or, they can cut a wide-ranging, multiplatform rights deal with an established programmer, such as ESPN or Fox Sports.

“Right now, all of the major conferences are going to take a hard look at launching their own network,” said TV consultant Mike Trager, a former chairman of Clear Channel Entertainment’s television division.

The Big 12 is the next major conference to face the choice. Its ABC/ESPN deal expires in the spring of 2008.

The SEC’s current deal with CBS, ESPN and Lincoln Financial ends in the spring of 2009, and the conference is exploring the possibility of an SEC TV channel, said Charles Bloom, the conference’s associate commissioner.

“But it’s not a slam dunk,” Bloom said. “We’re not going to jeopardize what we have already. …We’re very happy with what we have now. We’re asking ourselves how we can add to it and how we can make it better.”

To launch the Big Ten Channel next August, the Big Ten is partnering with Fox, which will pick up the startup costs. The conference and Fox will form a limited liability company that will pay the conference an annual rights fee.

Due in part to the growing number of cable and broadband channels, schools and conferences are less concerned about their high-visibility football and basketball programming and focused more on finding a home for Olympic sports, such as volleyball, field hockey and soccer.

“One of the growing trends is developing added exposure for Olympic sports,” said Brian Ullmann, assistant athletic director for the University of Maryland.

The Big Ten’s launch will provide a home for those non-revenue-generating sports. The conference still will get distribution for its bigger games through a 10-year, $100 million deal with ABC/ESPN.

It also will be able to retain control over when its teams play their games and which sports to promote. Its investment will grow wildly if the channel gains enough distribution.

Distribution, though, is the biggest risk conferences face in launching their own channel. The mtn., for example, has been receiving negative local press detailing its problems in trying to launch in several of its conference’s markets, particularly on systems run by Cox Communications, which is taking a hard line with the RSN and refusing to pay its carriage fee.

“We don’t feel a need to compete [with satellite and telephone companies] on video content as much as we did before,” said Bob Wilson, Cox’s senior vice president of programming, citing the fact that video brings in “well under” 50 percent of Cox’s revenue. “That allows us to not have to accept all deals and offers that come our way.”

The Big East decided that ESPN could provide adequate coverage via its broadcast, cable, broadband and mobile platforms while also affording it a steady rights fee.

Also contributing to the Big East’s decision to extend with ESPN was the sports network’s broadcast syndication arm, which sells games to over-the-air stations in conference markets.

“We’re getting into all of the cable entities that we would have wanted to get into with our own channel,” Tranghese said.

Return to top
Video Powered By - Castfire CMS Powered By - Sitecore

Report a Bug