Big East Commissioner: TV Deal with ESPN ‘Not Anywhere Near Done’Posted by mlemaire on October 9th, 2012
When the Big East broke the trend of hiring experienced sports administrators and brought former CBS executive vice president Mike Aresco on board as its new commissioner, there was little doubt that Aresco’s experience in programming and negotiating large television played a large role. The conference didn’t have to wait very long to see its new hire in action as one of Aresco’s first responsibilities as commissioner was to secure a lucrative, long-term television deal with ESPN.
But now, with little more than two weeks left before the two sides’ exclusive negotiating window closes, the deal doesn’t appear to be any closer to being done than it did when Aresco took over. The new commissioner told reporters that the deal between the two sides is ‘not anywhere near done’ and that there has been plenty of interest from rival networks as they sense an opportunity to capitalize.
Now, it should be clear to anyone with even the most minimal business sense that Aresco’s comments could be true, or they could just be a rather transparent negotiating ploy to create the aura of competition between ESPN and its rivals even if there isn’t one. It will be interesting to see whether ESPN eventually decides to get the deal done or whether they believe the price is just too steep for a conference that doesn’t have nationally-relevant football programs and is in the process of losing three of their best basketball programs.
The good news for the Big East is that it hired a skilled negotiator with years of experience working in television and negotiating large television contracts with entities like the NCAA. The bad news is that everyone who understands sports knows that the Big East is not the same lucrative brand that the SEC or the Big 12 are.
The demand for Big East basketball will continue to exist, largely on the strength of the teams that will remain (for now) such as Louisville, Georgetown, and Connecticut. Aresco recognizes this and has used the conference’s basketball tradition and overall level of competition to explain the Big East’s appeal to the networks. The problem is that while Big East basketball will remain marketable, football is where the money is right now, and the Big East’s football programs hardly inspire excitement, which is probably exactly what ESPN is telling Aresco as they try to negotiate for a lower price.
If any side has leverage in this negotiation, it is ESPN, who already has the rights to televise an impressive stable of conferences and programs. The network probably also recognizes that the Big East desperately needs to get a television deal done if it wants to save itself from further defections and potentially even implosion and it shouldn’t be a secret that the Big East would love to hand over their rights to the “World Wide Leader In Sports Entertainment”.
In the end this deal will still probably get done, probably even before the exclusive negotiating window expires. Aresco even admitted that he expects negotiations to ramp up again as the deadline nears and to the outsider, it appears the two sides are just jockeying for a more favorable deal. But this situation is worth monitoring, because if the deal doesn’t get done and the negotiations open up to other networks, then things will really get interesting.