Part three of a three-part sponsored post series examining the intersection between college football and technology. Today, we take a look at how big ESPN has become for college sports, and whether its become a liability for those Superfans wanting to watch and follow Boston College sports.
As Martin Rickman over at Blogger So Dear pointed out last week, ESPN has a near monopoly on sports coverage and increasingly all of college sports.
"ESPN has a monopoly on sports coverage as far as I'm concerned. Fox Sports Net and VS really don't do much, and channels like the MLB Network are doing a great job, but are a niche market. Unfortunately, the World Wide Leader has really been a disappointment in the last few years, and things don't seem to be getting better. Honestly, I feel like they're complacent, and they feel like, in their minds, they can do no wrong."
Unfortunately, I think Martin is correct in his assessment of ESPN, and their unwieldy monopoly power on the college sports market may actually hurt our ability to follow BC sports longer term. It's almost as if the World Wide Leader has become too big on the college sports front, and this could be a long-term detriment to us Superfans when trying to watch Boston College sports.
Consider the following.
... With the new ESPN TV media rights deal with the ACC, ESPN will own all the rights to broadcast all ACC football and men's basketball games for 12 years, beginning in 2011-12. This cuts Raycom out of the picture entirely in terms of media rights, although ESPN will continue to sell specific games to the regional network, allowing them to broadcast a few games a week.
... The rights to televise the Bowl Championship Series, the ACC Championship Game and nearly every one of the 35 college football bowls all reside with ESPN. Seven of the 35 bowls are actually owned and operated by ESPN.
... BC basketball will be playing in the 2010 Old Spice Classic and the 2011 76 Classic, two Thanksgiving week basketball tournaments owned and operated by ESPN. The rights to broadcast the ACC Men's Basketball Tournament and nearly every other major conference tournament are also owned by ESPN.
... TV rights for the NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Tournament and College World Series ... again, with ESPN.
... Shows like ESPN College GameDay -- both for football and basketball -- have become the definitive pre-game source of truth for college football and basketball.
With an increasing reliance on ESPN to not only bring us coverage of BC sports, but also operate various college sports tournaments and bowl games, is it only a matter of time before the Eagles are pushed to the periphery of their various distribution channels (television, internet, basketball tournaments, bowl games)?
Consider the amount of coverage that the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Cowboys, the Yankees and the Red Sox receive compared to the amount of coverage that the Golden State Warriors, Detroit Lions and the Pittsburgh Pirates receive? ESPN aren't fools. Stories about LeBron James, Brett Favre and Yankees-Sox drive viewership and readership. But when was the last time you saw a breaking story or a feature on the Sacramento Kings or the Kansas City Royals?
Could the same sort of ESPN-ization of the four major pro sports end up happening at an increased rate in college, as the network amasses more and more media rights and distribution channels in the college market? I believe it could. I think ESPN's recent pursuit of the rights to the Longhorns TV Network and their BYU TV deal lead us to believe that this could very well happen increasingly over the next few years.
While the network continues to advance ESPN3.com -- both in reach and technologically -- this means even more Boston College football and basketball games will take a backseat on ESPN3.com to other, bigger name college programs. Short of finally realizing ESPN the Ocho, there is only so much shelf space to dedicate to college sports, and the bigger, named programs are going to win out every time over BC.
It's certainly not all doom-and-gloom. As a program, BC draws better TV ratings than similar schools of its size, due in part, I think, to our Catholic affiliation and nationally wide-spread alumni base. The school is also in an infinitely better position than other BCS conferences who have yet to strike a media rights deal with ESPN (a la the Big East).
Still, it's hard not to imagine a scenario 10 years down the road where college football programs like Texas, USC, Florida and Alabama and college basketball programs like Duke, Carolina, Kansas and UCLA are getting a disproportionate amount of ESPN air time compared to the BCs and Wake Forests of the college sports world. This, of course, stacks the deck against the schools not getting all the ESPN love. The more media attention drawn to power schools, the more this helps those schools in recruiting and the more uneven the playing field becomes.
The simple fact that you can watch almost every BC football game either on TV or online is great and all, but sitting in front of your laptop week after week and not hearing anything about the program on SportsCenter or other programs will get kind of old, no?