In the annual spring/summer effort to make it up to my wife for not doing things for 8 months because of Pitt football and basketball, most weekends are now heavily occupied with either family activities or house chores. This past weekend involved building a 4×8 raised garden bed. All went well until I started driving stakes into the ground to help anchor the bed. Whacked my thumb with a mallet. Glancing blow so I managed not to break it. Instead took out a divot of flesh at the top of the thumb. Suffice to say I didn’t feel much like typing for a few days. Still hurts.
Actually a good deal to get to, but the big news is the pending Pac-12 media rights deal. It’s a whopper.
The Pac-10 Conference has agreed to a media rights deal with ESPN and Fox that is worth more than $2.7B over 12 years, according to multiple sources. A formal announcement could come as soon as tomorrow. The deal, which averages out to more than $225M per year, includes football, basketball and Olympic sports rights. It is more than triple the conference’s current deals with ESPN and Fox. The conference is holding some rights back that it still hopes to use for a dedicated channel.
Now the offices of the Pac-12 get their cut, so it isn’t like each team will get $20 million per year, but it will be up there.
The first thing this does is render any and all talk the Big East was having with ESPN irrelevant. This deal, along with the recent Big 12 deal further drives up the value of the Big East media rights. Even if the overall product may not be the same.
The Big East is the last conference with rights up for grabs, and there is a player still sitting at the table to bid up the rights. As it stands, the Big East is the only BCS Conference that does not have its media rights shared by more than one media company (a handful of basketball games on CBS don’t count).
The deal is a blow to Comcast/NBC, which was vying to pick up the rights for Versus but pulled out last week.
That should be a driving factor towards putting the rights out on the open market rather than dealing only with ESPN early. Comcast/NBC is still out there and wants to have their own place in the market.
At the very least it opens things up to the possibility of a split rights deal, which puts more Big East games out there.
The SEC has its deal with CBS and ESPN (which includes the SEC Network syndicated distribution). The ACC has its Raycom deal along with FoxSports for basketball. The Big 12 and Pac-12 have Fox deals. The ACC, Big 12, SEC and now the Pac-12 all have that. The Big 10 has their own network that effectively does the same. The Pac-12 deal still puts them in a position to have their own network on top of it, since their deal does not give away all of their media rights (which by the way, the Big East’s current deal with ESPN does).
Now the Big East media rights don’t actually hit the open market until 2013, but the ESPN and Big East started talking really early. Why? Because the it best serves the basketball interests to work a deal early.
I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating. The basketball schools are in fear that they will be ignored or lost if they are airing anywhere but on ESPN or local affiliates (that carry Big East Network syndication). That’s why they would want negotiations early with ESPN to extend the present deal.
It also makes sense, because despite the continually escalating rights fees, the higher money is fueled by the football side of things. The basketball rights rise, but not at the same dramatic rate. That means that putting the rights on the open market does not produce the same benefits for them.
If anything it hurts the basketball schools further, because the football schools would get even more money for their athletic departments. That puts the basketball schools in the Big East at a competitive disadvantage not just with schools from other conferences, but within their own conference.
The other advantage for the basketball schools is that locking in a new contract early also produces yet another disincentive for the football schools to push conference expansion. Expansion would mean cutting more schools in on the football money. If it isn’t as robust as the other conferences are raking, then football schools would be reticent to push too hard for a 10th or more teams for football (and more in basketball).
Not to mention locking the conference in a new deal early, keeps the football schools in the conference. No split happens.
Now when Rutgers blog On the Banks fantasizes about a football split, he raises the possibility of bringing a few basketball schools to make it 12/16. His choices are the obvious: Villanova, Georgetown, St. John’s and Notre Dame.
Of course, many abhor the idea of maintaining a split — even if football would clearly rule — not to mention keeping ND in the conference but with their football independence. The advantage, though, would be that Comcast/NBC would fall over itself trying to bid for more of the rights. The chance to land some more ND games (possibly another road football game in there).
At a minimum, the bar has now been raised that the Big East football schools will have to have a media deal that is about equal to the ACC deal signed last year. Big East Commish John Marinatto knows this.
He knows that the pressure is all on him. His school loyalties and the basketball programs want a deal early to keep the conference together. The football schools should want to wait. Get the best deal and likely know what possible expansion partners like UCF or Houston would do for the football deal.
The money keeps rising. That makes the tipping point for a conference split that much closer.