ESPN signed a huge mega-deal with the University of Texas for $300 million dollars over 20 years. I’m not sure I see the logic behind this, from ESPN’s perspective. They are guaranteed one football game a year, which is likely going to be a game against an FCS opponent that’s not worth televising on ESPN or Fox. Eight basketball games, which may be a little more useful but not much. The rest are going to be reruns of games already played and sports that ordinarily don’t get televised. The other material, such as college lectures and the like, may be interesting but are not exactly in ESPN’s target audience and are unlikely to get subscribers.

The University of Texas is the flagship university of a large state. It’s one of the few schools in the country that could pull something like this off. There are also, I would imagine, a lot of UT alumni spread around the country. But enough to warrant a cable carrier in San Diego or Chicago to pick up the channel? For a football game against East Podunk State, a handful of basketball games, and Longhorn rowing team action? How much do we expect Comcast of Seattle to pay for this? Even Dish Network and DirecTV probably couldn’t justify putting it anywhere except on their cross-regional sports packs (like Fox Sports Wherever) outside of Texas.

And for this ESPN is buying into a 20-year commitment and putting down $300,000,000? That’s what I find most baffling. Giving them a network, like BYU has, makes some sense. You could probably do it with a handful of schools (Florida, UCLA, Notre Dame, …?). But making $15,000,000 a year doing it? BYUtv is primarily about exposure and is non-commercial.

There are really only two explanations I have for this. First, they’re afraid that if Texas does this on their own that they’re going to seriously lose out. But there’s only so much they can lose with one school. Even the Big Ten hands their marquee games to ESPN (instead of running them on the Big Ten Network) because that’s where the money is. They’ve lost Mountain West and Conference USA games, but those aren’t exactly big losses. The SEC is a bigger deal, but they’ve managed to share it with CBS. The second is that perhaps this is part of a larger plan to strike similar deals with the other big name schools so that they can cut their smaller conference-mates (the Iowa States and Arizonas of the world). The problem with that is that UT is in a conference with a special arrangement. The other major conferences have rejected the Big 12 model of unequal revenue-sharing. So not only does it seem unlikely that they would be able to do this, but there is little fear of other big schools like Florida following their lead unless there is a mass exodus of top teams from their conferences. Or a realistic enough threat of that happening that they can leverage it into independent deals like Texas. Texas, though, blackmailed a very vulnerable conference, and it was the existence of unequal revenue-sharing that made the conference vulnerable to begin with.

So anyway, while this sounds like a great deal for the University of Texas, it’s quite a puzzling one by ESPN. At the very least, you would think that they would want to test the waters first before making such a tremendous gamble. This type of thing hasn’t been done before and the ESPN just bet a whole lot of money that it will work. The last time that happened was with NBC and Notre Dame, and that didn’t exactly work out.


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7 Responses to The Puzzling ESPNUT Arrangement

  1. Maria says:

    No comments on the UT deal, just wanted to point out that 50 percent of QBs playing today are from the Pac-10.:)

  2. trumwill says:

    25% from the MAC!

  3. Maria says:

    The Jets played one ugly-ass game. Miscommunicated plays, blown tackles, turnovers, dropped snaps. Amazing the score was so close.

    Not surprised the Pack squeaked by the Bears–loved watching the pick six by the enormous, lumbering, William Perry clone on the Pack’s defense.

  4. Mike Hunt says:

    There are also, I would imagine, a lot of UT alumni spread around the country.

    I don’t know how true this is…

    I don’t see this as a good deal for ESPN. The reason why these things are done on a conference-wide system is that teams go in cycles. Look at CBS’ football contract with the SEC. The last 5 champions have been from the SEC, with 4 different champions, and no repeats. If the contract was with one specific team, the contract wouldn’t be as lucrative.

    The last time that happened was with NBC and Notre Dame, and that didn’t exactly work out.

    ND is the only truly national school, so I think that the relationship works well for both. ND is VERY popular here with the subway alumni. NBC pays ND $15 million a year for TV rights, which sounds like a lot, but is less than what Vanderbilt gets. Hell, it doesn’t even cover Charlie Weis’ salary.

    What I REALLY don’t like about this deal is that I am paying for it, since I am an ESPN subscriber.

    maria: The Jets played one ugly-ass game. Miscommunicated plays, blown tackles, turnovers, dropped snaps. Amazing the score was so close.

    You left out the part where your precious PAC 10 quarterback wiped his snot on his back-up’s jacket. The back-up, who didn’t object, is also a PAC 10 alum.

    maria: Not surprised the Pack squeaked by the Bears–loved watching the pick six by the enormous, lumbering, William Perry clone on the Pack’s defense.

    If 1985 William Perry entered the league in 2010, his only nickname would have been Bill.

  5. trumwill says:

    I don’t know how true this is…

    Texas is a huge school. Also a competitive one where graduates are more likely to be able to “make it” in other parts of the country compared to, say Arizona State.

    I don’t see this as a good deal for ESPN. The reason why these things are done on a conference-wide system is that teams go in cycles. Look at CBS’ football contract with the SEC. The last 5 champions have been from the SEC, with 4 different champions, and no repeats. If the contract was with one specific team, the contract wouldn’t be as lucrative.

    Yeah, it provides a great deal of flexibility so that if Florida isn’t having a great year but Auburn is, you can show Auburn games. Or vice-versa. This contract was signed after a season in which Texas had a losing record But that didn’t seem to factor in.

    On the other hand, Texas is still with the Big 12 and most of their games are going to be a part of that package. Which is perhaps the prime reason that this is so baffling. They’re paying this much for leftovers.

    I just don’t see how this is a good deal for ESPN. But ESPN is not stupid. So I’m really confused here.

    ND is the only truly national school, so I think that the relationship works well for both.

    The service academies are also national. Those that went into the military instead of to college often adopt their service academy as “their team”. It’s one of the reasons that Army and Navy remain independent.

    BYU also has a very spread out following among Mormons across the country, but the following doesn’t compare with ND since Mormons are much fewer than Catholics.

  6. Mike Hunt says:

    The service academies are also national.

    I thought about them as I was typing my response, but decided to not include them because tradtionally they are terrible at football. Therefore, their national following, while technically national, is much much smaller than ND. None of the service academies could support a national TV contract. Perhaps that could change if they became good again, but as it stands, I can tell you that despite being in the same DMA as Army, no one here cares about Army athletics. More people care about Rutgers football, and no one cares about Rutgers football.

    Those that went into the military instead of to college often adopt their service academy as “their team”.

    I don’t know how true this is either. The military is disproportionately southern, and the SEC rules down there. I would think that enlistees would be more apt to root for their state school rather than teams from Annapolis or West Point. Disclaimer, this is conjecture on my part.

  7. trumwill says:

    I think that the distinction between Notre Dame and the service academies is between depth and geography. Notre Dame has both, with a lot of depth and a national following. The service academies have geography, but not depth. BYU is somewhere in between, with local depth and further geography than most schools, but still pretty shallow compared to ND given the number of Mormons and Catholics in this country.

    The problem with Texas is that they have depth, but I don’t know how much geography they have since (as with most state universities) more graduates than not are going to stay in-state.

    I mention the service academies because they are known to travel well. Wherever they are playing, they bring people to games. That’s why they play at neutral sites with more frequency than a lot of other schools do. They lack depth on their home turf (how many Army grads stay in Westpoint? Or upstate New York? Or in the northeast?), but they have a decent (especially considering their historical performance) fanbase that’s spread out.

    Notably, Army and Navy don’t have their own TV network, but Army does have a TV contract wherein all of their home games are shown on an ESPN network and the Service Academies collectively also have a deal with CBS College Sports. It’s definitely not because they’re contenders. In the five years before Army signed the contract with ESPN, they had all of 12 wins. I think the main two reasons they punch above their paygrade in terms of TV contracts and the like are basic patriotism (it looks good for the networks to sign these deals) and that they have a national following.

    In any event, I agree that we’re not going to see an Armed Forces Sports Network any time soon. I would still call their following “national”, though. If a bit on the shallow side.

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