Last week, someone on the Internet reported that the Big East is looking to get $14 to $17 million per team per year in television revenue. Granted, the Big East is in the catbird seat as the next conference up to market itself. But to think that the current collection of Big East schools could approach what the ACC is getting is shocking, especially after losing Pitt, Syracuse, West Virginia, and TCU. If the Big East could land that–and that is a huge IF–what would that mean for the ACC?
First, before we get carried away on what the Big East will get, we should heed the words of Frank the Tank, the Internet’s best blog for discussing conference issues (realignment and business):
Regardless, if there’s any semblance of reason out there, then the truth will likely be somewhere in the middle. NBC Sports Network effectively needs any type of halfway decent live sports content, so it has a larger incentive to pay a premium to the Big East. Comcast is NOT a charity, though, as evidenced by the aforementioned Animal Practice interlude to the Closing Ceremonies of the Olympics. This can’t be emphasized enough: Comcast is going to pay the least amount that they can possibly get away with in order to win the Big East rights. As a result, that floor is going to be determined by how much interest ESPN and, to a lesser extent, Fox have in the Big East. If the conference wants to obtain maximum value, then it particularly needs to have ESPN legitimately involved in the bidding process or else Comcast isn’t just going to hand over large rights fees for the hell of it and negotiate against themselves. In my humble opinion, ESPN isn’t going to want to let NBC Sports Network get the Big East for free, but the guys in Bristol aren’t going to go balls out to retain the Big East, either (and Comcast, who has gone toe-to-toe with ESPN in tough negotiations on many fronts, definitely knows that). That points to a potential Big East contract that’s in the middle of the high and low figures that have been reported out there – let’s say about $10 million per all-sports school per year and $4 million per non-football school per year.
Plus, the Confidential has always believed that ESPN is genuinely irate that the Big East rejected its offer last year. It remains to be seen whether ESPN will even allow itself to get into a bidding war with other networks over the Big East. While Georgetown, Villanova, St. Johns, DePaul and Marquette are situated in nice markets, the lack of a football team renders them somewhat indistinguishable from Atlantic 10 schools. So it falls on the schools like Louisville, UConn, Cincinnati, Memphis, Temple, and Rutgers to carry the all-sports side of things. That is not an awful collection of teams, but is it really going to top what the ACC and Big XII can offer in hoops, much less what all conferences can offer in football. Just not sold on the ratings being there to justify mega-millions.
But if the Big East does land a deal approaching the ACC’s deal, then it is obvious that the ACC is in trouble. By being locked-in at well below market value, and with conferences like the B1G and Big XII having the ability to negotiate soon, the disparity will be massive. Seriously, if the Big East is worth $15M per team, the other conferences have to be worth $30M per team. It will be hard for FSU and other schools to justify being compensated like a Big East team just because the ACC improvidently locked itself in.
And once the first school leaves the ACC, it is not difficult to envision scenarios where there is a greater pillaging of ACC schools by the Big Four conferences (except the Pac-12). There are no shortage of Internet posts analyzing just how the major conferences would carve up the ACC. Unfortunately for Syracuse and Pitt, they may have been on the wrong side of this move. The Big East having the good fortune to market itself at the perfect time might, ironically, be the ACC’s undoing.
Of course, if you are ESPN, you do not want the ACC imploding. So, again, expect ESPN to make a “take it or leave it” offer to the Big East that will give it a raise, but also keep the Big East from going on the market. And if the Big East refuses, ESPN will have to just walk away entirely and put its billion dollars elsewhere. Frankly, that’s a good move. ESPN does not need to overpay for content.
Maybe the NHL could use that billion dollars?