The Big East has been on a PR blitz trumpeting its football TV rights, the only ones coming available when Comcast/NBC and Fox are desperate to get in the game. The “BEast,” as no one calls it, turned down a $1 billion deal with ESPN and presumes its in line for a mega deal commensurate with its BCS brethren. That seems plausible, but, it’s worth remembering, this is the Big East.
The market for Big East football is minimal. In February, ESPN unveiled a 14-game schedule of nationally-televised Big East games. Just four were on Saturday. Two of those games – Notre Dame vs. Pitt and LSU vs. West Virginia – feature non-conference teams that are much bigger draws. The other two are on December 3, filler when virtually every major conference is playing title games. This is the hottest commodity in sports television? The conference has an automatic BCS bid. It also schedules games on Wednesdays to get on television.
The Big East argues that it has the country’s largest footprint, 30 million households. Perhaps, but it treads lightly, if even perceptibly in those markets. They have Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Louisville in the Ohio Valley, best known for not being Ohio State, Penn State or Kentucky. They have, maybe, the fourth largest programs in Texas (TCU) and Florida (USF) respectively. TCU joins in 2012 as a national power. When Patterson leaves it probably returns to being the sub-10,000 student private school no major conference wanted. Those people exist. That doesn’t mean they are college football fans or Big East fans.
I live in the purported jewel of this footprint, New York City. Geographically, Syracuse, Rutgers and UConn enclose the city. Practically, none of those schools has a large football alumni base. Most college football fans in New York come from elsewhere. ESPN lumps New York, and the rest of the Northeast, into Big Ten country. Time Warner carries The Big Ten Network.
Both Fox and Comcast want a foothold. Both may bid handsomely and dangle carrots such as primetime games, but, fundamentally, few people care about Big East football and arguments for its potential footprint are disingenuous. This is a conference that needs a captive national audience to obtain one. ESPN can easily combat a Big East-spearheaded threat to its hegemony, by showing any other football.
[Photo via Getty]