It was just a few decades ago that television rights and network agreements with conferences didn’t exist in the world of college football. Up until the mid-1980s television rights were controlled by the NCAA, whose strategy was to protect attendance at games, which often meant stifling distribution over the airwaves. Just a handful of national games were on network TV and regional broadcasts were only allowed during certain weeks of the season.
But the 1981 Supreme Court case NCAA v. Board of Regents of University of Oklahoma, ruled that this arrangement was in violation the Sherman Antitrust Act. From that point, conferences and schools have been free to negotiate their television rights.
It was around this time as well that cable television was taking off. The sudden availability of inventory (the games) coupled with the exponential growth of carriers (think ESPN, ABC, CBS, NBC, then ESPN2, ESPNU, Fox, and the CBS Sports Network, not to mention the endless number of local and regional stations that produce and carry games) formed a perfect storm that led us to where we are today. Turn on your television right now – in the middle of July – and you’ll probably find at least one college football game rebroadcast somewhere.
BIG EAST Football was born in 1991 and has always provided its members with excellent television exposure. In the past two years, half of all intra-conference games were televised on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2. If you include ESPNU, nearly 70 percent of conference games were on national TV on an ESPN platform.
ESPN and ESPN2 both reach 100 million households across the nation. ESPNU’s reach has expanded to 72 million households.
Beyond the national broadcasts, the BIG EAST’s geography makes its regional television package a valuable commodity. Anchored by SNY in New York and Connecticut (and on DirecTV and a growing number of cable carriers), the BIG EAST Network Game of the Week is available to more than 44 million homes across the nation – or nearly 40 percent of national television households. Fans in more than 30 states can watch the syndicated BIG EAST game on Saturdays and SNY’s commitment to more than 1,000 hours of conference programming means that BIG EAST games are more available on TV than they’ve ever been.
Further, with the addition of TCU and the Dallas/Fort Worth market to the BIG EAST footprint in 2012, the conference will have access to more than 30 percent of the nation’s television households. That’s prime real estate.
Today, college games are seen not only on the traditional television screen, but on computers, iPhones and iPads. New technology continues to create more platforms to showcase games and provide creative opportunities for exposure.
And that’s why, in the BIG EAST’s case, being last might well mean being first.
The BIG EAST’s next television arrangement will take place after the execution of long-term, lucrative deals with the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 were announced in recent months. Each of those leagues made a big splash with the financial components and long-term commitment of their respective deals.
With the BIG EAST ‘up next,’ so to speak, the possibilities appear to be endless as the Conference is well positioned to provide its members with tremendous exposure as well as long-term financial security and stability.
Where do online and digital media rights fall in the picture? When the BIG EAST’s existing television deal was signed, the iPhone didn’t exist. Now, thanks to the ESPN Mobile platform, you can watch games directly from your phone or tablet.
Those are all factors that are being considered as the BIG EAST prepares for its next deal.
The challenge, then, will be finding the best way to deliver programming to those markets, and the nation, in a manner that strengthens both the BIG EAST brand and the conference’s ability to deliver exposure and financial stability to its members.
You’ll have no problem learning how things turn out – either on television or on your iPad.