The Big East is currently in a 60-day exclusive negotiating window with ESPN for its next media rights deal. Few expect a deal to be struck within that 60-day window, especially if it means a deal exclusively with ESPN. As has been widely reported, both Fox Sports and NBC Sports are anxious to get their hands on additional live sports programming. John Ourand of the Sports Business Daily gathered a roundtable of industry experts to get their opinions on which network or collection of networks will ultimately win the bidding for Big East sports. Here's what they had to say. Some of the answers might surprise you.
Big East: The majority believes ESPN and Fox will split the package.
Lee Berke, president and CEO of LHB Sports, Entertainment & Media: "ESPN [will win because of] the advantages of incumbency plus the desire to retain an important part of the network’s heritage."
Len DeLuca, founder of Len DeLuca & Associates: "While NBCU should be favored, a split deal like the Pac-12 or new Atlantic 10 deal is possible, with ESPN and Fox the likely partners."
Ed Desser, president of Desser Sports Media, "CBS [will win] due to history, Fox and ESPN deals with other conferences, and a desire to use CBS Sports Network on a package that isn’t what it used to be."
Joel Lulla, professor at the University of Texas: "The Big East will be shared between Fox and ESPN. Notre Dame leaving the Big East could dampen NBC’s appetite to pay a premium for the product."
First, I'm surprised to hear anyone indicate that CBS will be a major player for the rights. I haven't seen anything that gives me the impression that they'd be interested in it and I'm not convinced that just because the Big East hired Mike Aresco away from CBS, it'd be enough to make them commit that kind of money to the Big East. I'm also not convinced that the Big East would want to sell off those rights to play exclusively on the CBS Sports Network. If the deal included national broadcasts on CBS, before or after the typical Verne/Gary SEC game, well I'd be all in favor of that, but I don't think that's what Ed Desser has in mind.
Second, I'm surprised NBC isn't more of a player in the minds of the experts, but I think I can see why. The fact that Notre Dame is leaving for the ACC and will be exclusively on ESPN for its non-football sports likely dampens some of NBC's rumored plans to try and package Big East sports around its already established relationship with Notre Dame. Also, it'd be somewhat awkward to try and package Big East football and Notre Dame football together when there's no relationship between the school and the conference anymore.
Third, I'm not surprised to see increasing talk of a deal that involves Fox and ESPN together like the PAC-12 and Big 12 have. Despite how poorly ESPN has treated the Big East over the past two years, it will own all of the television rights for the expanded postseason format going forward, so there's value in retaining some working relationship with ESPN. A combination deal between the two networks would accomplish keeping NBC from expanding its college sports offerings while helping Fox Sports expand its coverage (which it has been doing aggressively, locking down the Tier 3 rights for virtually every Big 12 school) and thereby driving up the value of the contract. If Fox Sports is serious about converting the Speed Channel into a full sports channel, that'd be another outlet for Big East sports.
I don't think the Big East will reach an agreement on a television rights package any time soon, but it's still interesting to see what people in the industry think will occur. A more interesting and important question at this point is, how much will it be worth?