Months after asking for $300 million per year, the Big East will be back on ESPN, for around $20 million. ESPN matched NBC’s offer and can now work out the fine print and possible sub-licensing agreements. The roller coaster of self-immolation has reached its terminus.
ESPN is the clear winner. They get more football inventory for a minimal investment in TV terms. They shut out a potential competitor in NBC Sports Network. They can sub-license some of the content to the network of their choice. Their weeknight football lineup is secure. How this played out is a gauge for any other conference considering leaving ESPN’s comforting, worldwide embrace.
NBC misplayed this. They tried to low ball the Big East to get cheap programming. The problem is they low balled the Big East so much it became cheap enough for ESPN to match. People come to sports networks for the sports. They stay and become accustomed to the ancillary programming. Big East football isn’t good college football, but it is still college football. This is a missed opportunity.
The Big East wanted a more respectful partner than ESPN, but they might be better off with how this played out. Rejecting the $150 million ESPN offer back in 2011, which might have kept the conference together more or less, was monumentally stupid. Accepting that, there are worse places to be televised. Playing midweek may be an indignity, but it still has much higher visibility than a Saturday afternoon game on NBCSN. It’s also not bad to be affiliated with the network that runs bowl season.
So…now that the Big East is back under ESPN’s umbrella. How long before the big five becomes the big six?
[Photo via USA Today Sports]