SBJ/October 8-14, 2012/Media

Time to look forward to next round of sports media deals

John Ourand
Now that Major League Baseball has completed media rights deals with ESPN, Fox and Turner, I am turning my attention to the next batch of sports TV negotiations. In the next six months, U.S. TV rights deals for the Big East, English Premier League, BCS and NASCAR should be complete or nearly finished.

The most interesting part of these deals is to see what NBC gets. The network has been active in every negotiation over the past couple of years and is looking to land at least one big fish to bring more viewers and advertisers to NBC Sports Network.

It also will be interesting to see whether any new networks swoop in to try to pick up sports rights. Everyone is waiting to see if Al Jazeera’s BeIN Sport will bid high enough to get EPL rights.

I asked four of the country’s top sports media consultants to handicap how they see these negotiations playing out. Most thought Fox would be more aggressive as it looks to rebrand its motorsports channel Speed into an all-sports channel. Most didn’t consider NBC to be a front-runner for any of the available packages.

Big East: The majority believes ESPN and Fox will split the package.

Lee Berke, president and CEO of LHB Sports, Entertainment & Media: “ESPN [will win because of] the advantages of incumbency plus the desire to retain an important part of the network’s heritage.”

Len DeLuca, founder of Len DeLuca & Associates: “While NBCU should be favored, a split deal like the Pac-12 or new Atlantic 10 deal is possible, with ESPN and Fox the likely partners.”

Ed Desser, president of Desser Sports Media, “CBS [will win] due to history, Fox and ESPN deals with other conferences, and a desire to use CBS Sports Network on a package that isn’t what it used to be.”

Joel Lulla, professor at the University of Texas: “The Big East will be shared between Fox and ESPN. Notre Dame leaving the Big East could dampen NBC’s appetite to pay a premium for the product.”

EPL: Consensus is that Fox gets it.

Berke: “Fox has the networks in place to fully commercialize all EPL matches.”

DeLuca: “Fox has momentum in fútbol acquisitions. NBC Sports Network and ESPN will try to break that. Too close to call.”

Desser: “Al Jazeera. They have huge resources and a motivation a la BeIN to capture must-have programming. The financial pressures of EPL may lead them to take the money rather than go a traditional route, especially with the recent decisions on exclusivity in Europe.”

Lulla: “EPL will go to Fox. Soccer is a programming cornerstone of Fox’s cable and international properties.”

BCS: The panel believes ESPN will keep the BCS; two of the four predict that ESPN will share it with Fox.

Berke: “ESPN and Fox [will share it]. Maximizing both revenues and exposure, BCS rotates the playoffs and the championship between college football’s two biggest media partners and helps establish what will become the Super Bowl of college football.”

DeLuca: “Exclusivity will be prohibitive, so look for an ESPN and Fox split. But don’t discount Turner Sports’ appetite for championships (see NCAA basketball).”

Desser: “ESPN [will win] due to deepest pockets, number of platforms and greatest strategic benefit from existing college football and bowl games packages.”

Lulla: “BCS will stay with ESPN. ESPN has already proven its willingness to pay a premium for the Rose and Champions bowls, in large part to obtain rights to the semifinals hosted at those sites. I believe ESPN will likely pay whatever is necessary for the Orange Bowl, the other semifinal sites as well as the national championship game.”

NASCAR: The panel believes Fox will stay in the NASCAR business. Two believe Fox will share rights with ESPN and Turner; two think Fox will split rights with NBC.

Berke: “Fox/Turner/ESPN [will split the rights]. All three incumbents are motivated to retain perennial ratings performers with the auto industry on the rebound.”

DeLuca: “NASCAR is a 10-month franchise. The new sports nets should be inspired. Fox Sports Group and NBCU should split the whole season, forcing ESPN and Turner out or to a digital-only status.”

Desser: “Fox due to incumbency and new needs for their national sports cable net. Turner probably loses it. Maybe that’s what NBC takes.”

Lulla: “NASCAR will remain with the incumbents Fox, Turner and ESPN. Those three media companies would like to re-up with NASCAR, whereas I don’t believe NBC will bid aggressively for NASCAR due to its ratings trajectory.”

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.

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