Blog by: George Thomas and Ron Ledgard
An interesting question came up during a teleconference with members of the media to announce the Mid-American Conference’s new TV pact with ESPN.
Elton Alexander, my esteemed colleague from the Cleveland Plain Dealer asked MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher and the Worldwide Leader’s senior vice president, programming and acquisitions, Burke Magnus whether they thought MAC hoops is getting stiffed with the conference’s new TV deal.
Football is indeed front and center in the pact. ESPN now owns the rights to every MAC-controlled football game for the next 13 years. They are free to air games five days a week and they will continue to spread the MACtion brand in the process all while having the ability to license some games to regional partners.
Within a news release’s talking points is this blurb:
ESPN will continue to provide multi-platform coverage of regular-season men’s basketball and the conference championship.
Yes, that sounds fairly vague. There will be no prime-time showcase for basketball (unlike football) beyond this year's Friday night game and there are several distinct reasons why.
FOOTBALL. IS. KING.
And: FOOTBALL. IS. KING.
But the primary reason: while MAC teams have been competitive in both football and hoops, ESPN doesn’t really need it to fill their college basketball schedule.
The reality is that college basketball on ESPN is coming off its best year ever TV ratings wise, according to a company news release. They averaged 1.454 million viewers on telecasts, up six percent over last year. The ESPN broadcast networks [ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU] televised 586 games last season.
And they own basketball rights to some of the largest conferences. The MAC will have to settle for exposure on ESPN3 and in the process they could see as many as 120 men’s games aired once all 12 MAC schools have established production programs, a 3-4 year process, Steinbrecher said.
Are hoops being banished?
Yes and no.
If you’re looking for traditional broadcast prominence throughout the season, fans will have to find it from whatever licensees ESPN sells rights for the time being.
But being a top draw on ESPN3 won’t necessarily be insignificant. ESPN3 via the WatchESPN app represents one piece of broadcasting’s future.
“It has distribution access that far exceeds many traditional linear sports networks in terms of its accessibility,” said ESPN’s Magnus.
In a world that is going mobile, ESPN3 will have access to all of the smartphones, tablets and laptops (if they are still prominent) on the go. Watching at home? There are options that include gaming consoles, PCs and assorted streaming devices – think Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV.
For MAC basketball, the future is now.