CUSA TV and Rights Deals Of The Future

I read Kevin Draper’s Deadpan post about UFC and the live sports rights bubble. I’m bearish on TV rights also. ESPN, Fox, and NBC will continue to pay for the NFL, NBA and even P5 conferences, but they will not be the megadeals we are seeing now. ESPN certainly regrets the outlay for the failing Longhorn network, however much of an appeasement it was in realignment talks.

Every sports rights negotiation right now is, among other things, a commentary on the possibility that there is a sports rights bubble. In the last half-decade the value of sports broadcasting rights have exploded, as several competing sports cable channels have launched or strengthened, and DVRs and streaming have left live sports as the last vestige of appointment viewing. But a lot of people—myself included—believe there is a sports rights bubble, seeing developments like ESPN and Fox Sports shedding millions of subscribers and laying off hundreds of employees, the failure of some regional sports networks, and recent difficult rights negotiations as proof that sports networks cannot continue paying more for rights than they actually seem to be worth.

I was surprised at the announcement of the ACC Network, but even though it seems to be very solid and structured to prevent much wiggle room, there is room for skepticism.

Tim Benz talked with Sports Biz Journals’ John Ourand about the deal:

“I don’t want to that ESPN had been in a death spiral, because that’s overstating it. But in the two years since they completed that (SEC) launch, the cable TV industry has become much more challenged. ESPN has lost 10 million subscribers. There has been a huge
trend in the cable television marketplace to go away from the big tiers of programming, to smaller lower cost tiers. Now, in the next two years as you think that trend will continue and accelerate, ESPN & the ACC are going to have to convince Comcast, DirectTV,
Charter, etc that the new network will be good enough to keep subscribers long enough to put in those smaller packages. I think that will be an extremely tough sell.”

Okay So What Does This Mean For Us?

Well, North Texas doesn’t have drawing power and shares a conference with teams with a range of drawing power from only slightly more to decent. This is not a surprise to anyone. In fact I wrote previously,

The very-huge Marshall vs Western Kentucky matchup only drew 168K viewers. The CUSA title game only managed 488K, which put the game behind a meaningless Big 12 clash between West Virginia and Kansas State. By contrast, the B1G title matchup had over 9 million. While this is a function of quality of teams this season, the 2014 numbers aren’t very much different in relation to each other.

The numbers are showing that very few people are watching CUSA games compared to their more popular rivals. As networks hemorrhage subscribers, there is less room (read:money) for mistakes and splashes. And so the not-so-sure things are getting much less money. The silver lining here is the hodgepodge of networks and streaming options in the new CUSA deal might be the equivalent of the Thursday Night games of the mid-aughts. That is to say, CUSA might be on the bleeding edge of consuming college football. A good portion of fandom of any sport consumes the product via twitter anyway. Watching your team via CUSA.TV isn’t that much of a burden in 2016.

Chasing the Big TV deal may be a pipe dream too far off for North Texas and so a perfect chance to change the paradigm. How do you compete in a situation so completely stacked against you? Well you change the playing field.

I may be giving colleges and universities too much credit, as there is reason to believe that true innovation comes outside of the average classroom, which exists to imbue the status quo. Still the challenge remains. It is time to zig while everyone is zagging.

I moved the ‘forum’ to a new host. So it is back after some delay. I know only handful of folks signed up for it, but if you want to comment on these things you’ll have to create an account. It is a much better system than the default one. Thanks