|By RACHEL COHEN|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 10 August 2007 18:10|
Not wanting to call the Big Ten a ``guinea pig,'' the Big 12's Tim Allen chose his words carefully when describing how he'll closely observe the other conference's attempt to form its own television network.
``We're willing to let them be the people that test the marketplace,'' said Allen, an associate commissioner.
So are other conferences.
The Big Ten Network debuts Aug. 30, a year after the Mountain West launched its own channel, The Mtn. But other conferences aren't likely to follow their lead - at least not right away.
The simple reason is that for a conference to do so, it must wait for current TV contracts to end. While the Southeastern Conference is beginning to look into the possibility, officials from the other major football leagues said they don't believe starting their own network is the right move at the moment.
Each conference features a unique combination of culture, fan base and marketplace. How many fans live in the region? What other sports are the games competing with?
Those factors make a TV network a better fit for some than others, according to several conference administrators.
``Very few can do it,'' Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said.
The Big Ten's commissioner, Jim Delany, believes his conference boasts the right mix of components.
``A lot of other places don't have the history, don't have the involvement in the region,'' he said.
His colleagues at other conferences agree - which is why they may be less likely to make the same decision.
``It would seem that the Big Ten has a better chance of making this work than any other conference when you consider their alumni numbers, demographics and geographic footprint,'' Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford said through a spokeswoman.
``The Big Ten is the biggest story in those states,'' Tranghese said. ``I've got to compete with the Yankees.''
The Mountain West faced different circumstances. Conference officials were frustrated with their arrangement with ESPN and the network's proposal for an extension, commissioner Craig Thompson said. Some football games were being played on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Others were starting before 10 a.m. or after 8 p.m.
Three years ago, officials began to explore launching their own network. The channel has allowed the conference to reclaim control over games' dates and times.
If there's a conference that enjoys the kind of passionate following that would be conducive to a network's success, it's the SEC.
``The reaction of the marketplace to hearing that we're thinking about it has been extremely positive in every way,'' commissioner Mike Slive said.
Among the considerations the conference must take into account are its favorable current contract with CBS and the role of new media in any distribution plan, Slive said.
As broadband video becomes more accessible and popular, conferences may use it as a method of showing some games, said Steve Solomon, a former executive at the NHL and ABC Sports. Solomon is now the president of SJS Sports, a media and marketing company.
The new networks won't make a huge impact on how fans watch the conferences' most popular events: marquee football and men's basketball games. Creating their own channels allows conferences to provide greater exposure for Olympic sports and for non-athletic programming from their universities as well as highlight and preview shows.
The model used by the Big Ten and Mountain West does not involve every conference game being aired on their channels. Both maintain agreements with outside networks, on which most of the best football and men's basketball games are still televised.
Up to 41 Big Ten football games will be broadcast on ABC or ESPN this season. Versus or CSTV will air 23 Mountain West games.
It's those games not covered by traditional TV contracts that conferences must decide how to handle when they weigh whether to start their own network.
Conferences have given each school the option of forging agreements to broadcast those games locally. The Big 12's Allen and Pacific-10 associate commissioner Duane Lindberg said their conferences decided that approach remained the best fit for their members.
The greatest challenge for the two new networks has been distribution - ensuring that fans get the channel. Each has yet to reach an agreement with a major provider, the MWC with satellite systems and the Big Ten with cable giant Comcast.
Comcast and other cable providers have balked at the fee the Big Ten Network is requesting and its desire to be included on the basic tier. The key could be how strongly fans pressure their cable companies to add the channel, said Derek Baine, a senior analyst for SNL Kagan, a financial research firm.
Growing pains are normal for a new network. A quarter century ago, Allen recalled, the Big Eight started airing basketball games on a fledgling sports channel.
``We had people in western Kansas and parts of Missouri going nuts because they couldn't get games,'' he said.
That network was ESPN.
An SNL Kagan analysis predicts that the Big Ten Network will be making a profit by 2008 and earning an annual profit of $105.7 million by 2012.
Other conferences will have much more precedent to study as they consider launching their own networks.
Said Solomon, ``How the Big Ten plays out in time will have a major impact on what others do.''
A look at the other five BCS conferences:
Atlantic Coast Conference
All of the ACC's TV deals end after the 2009-10 school year. That ``will give us an opportunity to watch the Big Ten channel and see what works, what challenges they have and how it fares,'' commissioner John Swofford said through a spokeswoman.
The conference has already felt the impact of the Big Ten Network - commissioner Kevin Weiberg left in June to become the channel's vice president of university planning and development.
Before he left, the Big 12 in April announced new football and basketball contracts with ABC/ESPN that go through 2016.
``It made the best sense for us at that time,'' associate commissioner Tim Allen said. ``Does it mean we won't do something differently down the road? Absolutely not.''
The Big 12's deal with FSN ends after the 2011 season, and the language in the ABC/ESPN agreement would allow the conference to launch its own network then if it desired, Allen said.
The conference announced new football and basketball contracts with ESPN last year that go through 2013.
The Big East recently underwent a reorganization after three schools left for the ACC.
``We weren't in a position at this point of our development to put ourselves at risk,'' commissioner Mike Tranghese said.
The conference's football deal goes through 2011. Its basketball contract goes through 2012.
Associate commissioner Duane Lindberg said the Pac-10 considered launching its own network but decided to maintain the status quo.
``At that point, we felt that both based on our own position and then obviously the positions of marketplace at the time that that was the strategy we would employ,'' he said.
The conference's contracts end after the 2008-09 school year. The SEC is in the preliminary stages of evaluating the possibility of forming a network, commissioner Mike Slive said. Conference officials will begin to look at the issue more closely the next few months.