Friday, February 19, 2010

A Look at College Football TV Window Availability

If conference realignment actually happens in the next 12 months, it will be purely to increase revenue to the participating schools, and more specifically, revenue from TV contracts (see Comparison of Conference TV Contracts). The Pac 10 in particular is about to renegotiate its TV contract, and if expansion allows the conference to make the pie bigger for everyone, then it will likely expand.

We already looked at how much money new schools would need to generate to be considered viable (see Numbers Behind Pac 10 Expansion) from a financial perspective. The other question that must be considered is whether or not the broadcast windows or TV slots are available for the Pac 10 to gain a more favorable distribution package when its current contract expires after the 2010-11 basketball season. With recent contracts by the Big 10 and SEC locking in long term deals with ESPN for prime time spots, there isn’t much remaining.

Time Slot Arithmetic
There are a limited number of “windows” or time slots when games can be shown. In a best case scenario, a dedicated station (like ESPN) would have a maximum of 4 slots on a Saturday (Eastern times: 12 noon, 3:30pm, 7:00pm, and 10:30pm for Pacific starts only) and up to one slot on the other nights of the week. With 13 in a season (or up to 15, depending when you star t and end), the three ESPN channels (ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU) each have roughly 13*3=42 ideal Saturday slots, and an additional 13 late slots, for a total of 126 ideal slots and up to 39 late games (although this competes with Sports Center and is too late for most of the country). All of the ideal slots (noon to 7:00pm) are claimed, although only a handful of late games are played (3-5), nearly all by the Pac 10.

The other six national sports channels airing college football games (ABC, NBC, CBS, FSN, CBS College Sports, and Versus) have a similar number of slots. Of those, only FSN uses the late slot, showing about 5 late Pac 10 games per year. ABC and CBS CS have filled all of the first three slots, while NBC only airs 8 Notre Dame games in the afternoon and CBS only airs 14 SEC games also in the afternoon. FSN and Versus each only have about 20 of the potentially 39 ideal slots filled with football games.

Saturday Slate (12 noon, 3:30, 7:00)—About 39 Available Slots
ESPN: 39 (13 Big 10, 13 SEC, 7 B10, 5 SEC, 1 Pac 10)
ESPN 2: 42 (12 Big 10, 12 ACC, 2 CUSA, and 15 mirror games*--11 Big 10, 3 Big 12, 2 Big East)
ESPNU: 41 (13 SEC, 13 ACC, 6 Big East, 6 WAC, 2 MAC, 1 Sun Belt)
ABC: 66 games (16 Big 12, 15 Pac 10, 15 Big Ten, 14 ACC, and 6 Big East), many of which are only shown regionally.
CBS CS: 33-40 (13-15 CUSA, 11-16 MWC, 6 Navy, 3 Army)
FSN: 20 (13 Big 12, 7 Pac 10)
Versus: 18 (8 MWC, 5 Big 12, 5 Pac 10)
CBS: 15 (14 SEC, 1 Army vs Navy)
NBC: 8 (Notre Dame)
ESPN Classic: 2-3 (Option to pick up Big 10 and SEC if necessary)

Saturday Night Slots (10:30pm Eastern)—About 13 Available
ESPN: 3 (Pac 10)
FSN: 5 (Pac 10)

Other nights (ESPN/2)—About 13 Available
Fri: 15 (6 Big East, 6 WAC, 1 CUSA, 1 MAC, 1 Army)
Thur: 13 (4 Big East, 4 ACC, 2 SEC, 1 Pac 10, 1 CUSA, 1 WAC)
[Versus and CBS CS also show 2-3 Thur games each season]
Wed: 5 (2 CUSA, 2 MAC, 1 WAC)
Tue: 6 (3 MAC, 2 Sun Belt, 1 CUSA)
Monday: none, except on Labor Day
Sun: 6 (3 CUSA, 2 Big East, 1 WAC)

There are a couple of key insights from this:
• ESPN, ESPN 2, and ESPNU and ABC are all contractually full, with essentially no more room to add games

• CBS College Sports has contracts to fill its slate, but has opted thus far, not to take all of the games available to it, leaving potentially room to add additional games

• FSN and Versus both are only at about half capacity as far as showing college football games—they obviously must have other content that they are airing, but potentially have room to add additional football games

• CBS and NBC could both add an additional TV slot if they wanted to either at 12 noon or prime time 7pm, since both the SEC games and the Notre Dame games are at 3:30pm. It would not be feasible for the Pac 10 to play in the noon slot, but could potentially fill the evening slot.

• The night/late slots are nearly unanimously available, except where the Pac 10 already fills them, which is likely part of what that conference would like to get away from.

• ESPN only shows one game per night on Thursday and Friday (even with multiple channels available)

• The Pac 10 and Big East have decent deals with ABC, but are clearly the have-nots in the other ESPN programming

Expiring Contracts
Another option is to try to take some of the market share that another conference currently holds. But, given when contracts expire, that is really only possible for slots held by Conference USA and/or the ACC, since those are the only contracts that will come up before the Pac 10 deal does at the end of the 2010-11 season. Here is the rundown:

TV Contract Expiration (last season)
CUSA    2010 (football)
ACC      2010-11 (basketball)
Pac 10    2010-11 (basketball)
Big East  2012-13 (basketball)
ND        2015 (football)
Big Ten  2015-16 (basketball)
Big 12    2015-16 (basketball)
MWC    2016-17 (basketball)
WAC    2016-17 (basketball)
SEC      2023-24 (basketball)

Conclusion: Available Options
In order for the Pac 10 to get better distribution and/or money, there are really only a couple of options:

1. Pick up empty slots with Versus and FSN (where they already are anyway)—Possible but not very lucrative

2. Try to get CBS or NBC to add another window for college football—Difficult but lucrative

3. Convince ESPN to add another channel or start showing more games on ESPN Classic

4. Steal slots from the ACC (12 ESPN 2, 13 ESPNU) or Conference USA (2 ESPN 2, 14 CBS CS)—Possible but not without a fight from the ACC

5. Play on weeknights (either get ESPN to add another game on Thursday or Friday, or fill in on the other days)—Unlikely

6. Start (or partner with another conference) on their own TV station—Challenging but big upside

7. Try to convince FSN and ABC to pay significantly more for the same product--Unlikely

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