It is being reported that Rupert Murdoch has decided to lace up his boots and get into the ESPN-dominated world of cable sports. News Corp. has recently waded into the waters through pushing products like Saturday night football games to FX, and has long been a regional staple with their Fox Sports Net channels.
Now, Murdoch wants to join NBC and CBS in the national cable sports arena.
This is happening at the best possible time for collegiate athletics, from a money standpoint. The money to be made off of sports is going up. Multiple conferences are due to negotiate new television deals in the very near future.
With a new player entering the arena, there is no better time for the grabby hands of college athletic directors, school presidents and conference commissioners to bargain. There is money to be made, and with the television landscape as it is, there will be plenty of funds to go around.
The Pac-12 has already got their big payday money deal and has remained stable as a conference through the latest round of expansion. Larry Scott really greased the wheels, lined the league's pockets and left room open for the creation of a network to continue to grow funds.
The Big Ten is sitting pretty with their own network in addition to the ESPN/ABC contract. Rumors are also floating that the Big 12 is close to signing a deal that will sit them at the table with the Big Ten and Pac-12 for the foreseeable future.
On the BCS level, that leaves the ACC, SEC and the Big East without a new contract.
The ACC has recently added Syracuse and Pitt to their equation, effective in 2014. The SEC added Texas A&M and Mizzou to their mix, effective in 2012. The Big East has lost West Virginia for 2012, plus Pitt and 'Cuse in 2014 but added Temple (2012), Houston-UCF-SMU-Memphis-Boise State-San Diego State (2013) and Navy (2015).
In the ACC and SEC, you've got a clear addition of inventory. Quality brands enter the fray, and that serves to boost the possible revenue for the overall product.
For the ACC, more strength in the northeast is a plus, in addition to the basketball properties of Syracuse and Pittsburgh. For the SEC, you get a swath of Texas plus the Missouri markets to add to the already-elite product the SEC currently possesses.
The Big East is an interesting experiment in losing three popular commodities and replacing them with more volume in lesser-known commodities. The league loses out in some name recognition but does increase their inventory and national scope.
With News Corp. determined to enter the fray along with CBS and NBC, things will get quite interesting at the negotiating table.
ESPN wants to maintain their true stranglehold on the market. The network has three channels dedicated full-time to sports, plus an online property in ESPN3 that needs content and, with Disney partner ABC, a channel to use on Saturdays for broadcast ratings. Four channels on Saturdays to show football on plus their online product.
ESPN's channels are not only carried by cable providers on their most basic digital subscriptions—they are established commodities. ESPN, from an exposure standpoint, is where teams want to be.
However, as CBS, NBC and Fox/News Corp. wade into these waters, the opportunity to challenge ESPN's grip is very real. While people may not get CBS Sports on their basic package and may not even realize they already have NBC Sports, they will find those channels if their team is playing on them.
Add Murdoch's new channel into the mix, and the goal for all three "new" players is clear—get content that people feel they must see, in order to build a network around it.
Yes, ESPN is where everyone wants to be. Everyone has ESPN. Everyone watches ESPN. Everyone knows about ESPN.
ESPN is the juggernaut of sports. More specifically they are the network where intercollegiate athletics are concerned. The exposure of being on the Worldwide Leader is unparalleled right now.
Only one thing can push a conference into one of these other networks—money.
With the cash-grab that is college sports in today's landscape, money is going to be the impetus for a league to sign up with one of these lesser-known sports outlets. Money is the only way to make this happen, and if the networks are serious about working, they will have to not only outbid ESPN but make the deal too sweet for commissioners to turn down.
Would you want your conference to leave ESPN for a new network?
That means someone runs the risk of overpaying for a product. Or, for the college conferences and teams involved, someone is going to get paid a lot of money to take their league into an experiment.
The SEC is the hot property. ESPN is going to hammer them down and make sure they don't go anywhere. But the ACC, a league in a constant struggle to quell the complaints of schools like Clemson and Florida State, who see their SEC rivals making bank, will be looking for a way to maximize their cash.
While the Big East deal is going to be worked out soon, the future option of News Corp. makes their television future as interesting as how their deal will work. 2012 with Temple but no WVU. 2013 with the addition of teams plus Syracuse and Pitt. 2014 without Pitt and 'Cuse but with all the teams they just added. 2015 with the addition of Navy.
The lawyers and negotiators had better be ready, because with all the pluses and minuses, it is going to take some juggling to arrive at how to alter the number but keep the league happy.
If these networks are serious about getting their product off the ground, they need inventory that folks are going to watch. That's college football.
They are going to have to outbid ESPN and make a strong case for getting into bed with them over the well-known commodity of the Worldwide Leader.