SBJ/April 16-22, 2012/Media

ESPN radio deal takes USC national

USC has become the second university to cut a national radio deal around its football program, as ESPN picked up the rights to the Trojans’ home football games.

The multiyear deal is worth mid-six figures total, sources said. The deal marks the first time that ESPN has become a national radio partner for a college football team. Notre Dame is the only other school with a national radio deal, with IMG College.

The nationwide deal with USC is the first of its kind for ESPN, but it may not be the last.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
But ESPN executives hinted that they will try to cut similar deals with individual schools and college conferences.

“We will continue to hopefully grow in the college space,” said Tim McCarthy, senior vice president of ESPN Radio’s play-by-play and talent planning. “Live play-by-play programming is unique programming that you can’t get anywhere else. We want to get deeper into this space.”

ESPN will sell the games to local stations, giving first priority to ESPN affiliates. If the affiliates decide not to take it, they will try to sell it to non-ESPN radio stations in the market.

As part of the deal, ESPN will produce as many as three telecasts. One will be heard locally on ESPN 710 AM, ESPN’s flagship station in Los Angeles. Another will be produced for a national audience that ESPN will sell across the country, and the third will be produced in Spanish.

ESPN has not decided who will staff the national broadcasts. Pete Arbogast and Paul McDonald have done USC games locally in Los Angeles and are expected to stay.

The deal is an important part of USC’s strategy to give its brand a national platform.

“It’s a decent chunk of revenue, but that’s not the real story,” said Dan Shell, vice president and general manager of USC Sports Properties. “The story is about USC’s brand. This deal is one small sign of the brand power that it has nationally.”

Shell came on board in January when Fox Sports hired him from IMG College. In December, Fox signed a 10-year deal worth more than $7 million a year to manage USC’s multimedia rights. USC previously had a deal with Touchdown Radio Network, but the deal was not national.

As part of the ESPN Radio deal, USC will use some of the radio inventory in its corporate packages.

“We want to grow the brand the right way,” Shell said. “Because it’s a national brand, it’s not limited to the traditional sales cycles and budgets.”

ESPN was a willing partner.

“We want to be championship audio, and we want to distribute it on as many platforms as we can,” McCarthy said. “We want to expand our footprint in college football and basketball.”

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