Tuesday, November 18, 2008

ESPN a mixed blessing for BCS

Fox’s withdrawal from the bidding to broadcast the BCS bowl games from 2011 through 2014 was a mixed blessing for college football fans.

The production quality of the Fox broadcasts was low. During the most recent BCS championship game, Thom Brennaman twice shouted “Touchdown” for Ohio State when none had been scored against LSU, and there was never any explanation of a critical LSU personal foul after a fourth-quarter fumble return.

Problem is, the network that appears to be outbidding Fox is ESPN. Make no mistake, ESPN has much more experience with college football broadcasts. ESPN’s production quality would be much better than Fox’s, though we’d have to stomach the endless promotion of ESPN’s personalities and platforms.

But ESPN isn’t one of the major broadcast networks, and having the BCS games carried live over “free TV” is a goal to which the BCS executives should aspire. Watching Cleveland at Buffalo (yawn) on current ESPN and former ABC property Monday Night Football was evidence of that.
Ironically, being on cable and satellite networks and not conventional, over-the-air television may help ESPN in the bidding process.

Fox spokesman Lou D’Ermilio told the Raleigh News & Observer that over-the-air networks can only bid what their advertising revenue will support. ESPN’s bids are supported by advertising revenue and the money it receives from cable and satellite TV providers – which ultimately comes from subscriber fees.

The dual revenue stream also helped ESPN outbid Charlotte-based Raycom Sports for SEC broadcast rights earlier this year, according to Raycom Sports president and CEO Ken Haines.
So even though ESPN’s broadcasts probably won’t reach as many homes, ESPN is delivering more cash to sports entities than “free TV.”

“Broadcast will probably always have an advantage over cable or satellite (in viewership),” Haines said, “just because broadcast is available everywhere, where there are restrictions to where cable is physically able to be and go, and where satellite is physically able to be and go. Plus the fact that cable and satellite will be more expensive to the consumer than just free, over-the-air television.

“. . .So there is very definitely a tradeoff. These sports leagues and conferences right now are looking, and understandably so, more at the money than they are at the depth and width of the distribution.”

In the case of the BCS , that means high production values and more cash, but potentially a smaller audience.

– Ken Tysiac


football fan said...

But how many sports fans really don't have cable or satellite?

I'm sure there are a few households who still just have "over the air" TV. But those people aren't watching much television - particularly sports programming - anyway. Everyone who cares about college football already has ESPN and will be watching when the BCS games move there.

To me, this is a positive. ESPN's college football coverage is far and away the best around. FOX does great with the NFL, but, as you noted, they've been pretty bad with college football.