The American Athletic Conference made headlines back in March for their new 12 year, 1 billion dollar media deal with ESPN (just under 7 million per school per year). They got back in the headlines late last week with the announcement that UConn will be leaving the league in the near future to rejoin the Big East.
That gives us the chance to revisit the looming Mountain West Conference media deal, which is set to expire at the end of this athletic season and currently pays about 1.1 million dollars to schools not named Boise State and Hawaii. The AAC has been ahead of the MWC the past few years and has the ol’ “east coast bias” working in their favor as well.
So the question becomes, what do you think is a reasonable deal for the MWC? Give years, monetary amount, plus who they negotiate with (multiple networks and streaming are all on the table)
Alex: I’m no television executive and I’m no master in contract negotiations so take what I say with a grain of salt.
The key to getting a beneficial deal done is to not try too hard to get a deal similar to the one the AAC received and to find some kind of balance.
The AAC is arguably the best G5 conference with quality programs (in more than just football) such as UCF, Temple, Houston, Memphis, SMU, etc. The Mountain West cannot make that same claim. Is it the second best? I’d say yes, but the gap is wide between the two conferences. It also helps to look at the media markets the AAC has: Orlando, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Houston, Cincinnati, etc. Compare that to the big MW markets of San Diego, Las Vegas, or San Jose. American Athletic games are going to get better viewership simply by default due to team locations.
The conference officials who will be negotiating this new deal need to obviously push for something worthwhile, but they need to be realistic as well. They need to know that, as much as they would love for the MW to be on the level of the American, it’s not. They also need to remember that they’re more or less making a deal for a conference without Boise State, its most successful member, since Boise has its own TV deal in place for the foreseeable future.
If I have to give some specifics to a possible deal, I’ll say that the conference splits with CBS because of the lack of an online presence. Now they’ll have the possibility of joining up with ESPN, NBC, FOX, or going completely online (which I highly doubt they’d do). If it’s up to me, I’m going with ESPN. They have the name recognition, they have the online services (granted its behind a $4.99 paywall but ESPN+ is worth it, in my opinion), they have the cable services, and overall I just think it’s the Mountain West’s best option. I’ll give it a length of eight years and an AAV of 1.8 to 2 million per school per year, but that may be generous. So anywhere from $176 million to $192 million over the course of eight years.
Adam: One big key that might help the conference land their new TV deal will be UConn leaving for the Big East in basketball, and seemingly needing to find a new home for their football program. That leaves ESPN and the AAC in a bit of a pickle, and helps bolster the MWC in negotiations.
That gives the conference some good leverage because the MWC can offer some interesting football matchups, and better basketball than can the AAC.
Ultimately the MWC should try to land a deal with Fox Sports. As of now those who have a cable provider can stream Fox Sports Go anywhere without any additional cost, can’t say the same for ESPN+. Both football and basketball would benefit greatly as more often than not the network is looking to add a third game for football on Saturdays and could add a fourth for basketball for the big boy Fox Network. This would also help bolster their Fox Sports 2 network with coverage of games as well.
Fox could also come to the negotiating table with the conference to get some better bowl tie-ins since the conference is losing its Las Vegas Bowl tie in starting in 2020.
I think the conference in general should try to look at a five to six year deal with their television provider, and it should land anywhere in the $2 million to $3 million per school per year.
Zach: For me, it is all about using the AAC as a template and catering to the changing television landscape. The gap between the Mountain West and AAC television contracts are huge, but that should shrink with the new contract. One of the biggest complaints we hear from Mountain West fans, is the hatred of late kickoffs. Well, those likely aren’t going anywhere and the Mountain West should be able to use those kickoff times as leverage in the next round of television negotiations.
With the new television negotiations, will Boise State be able to sweeten its deal with ESPN and will the gap with other Mountain West schools widen. That remains to be seen, but I suggest that the Broncos try to strike while the iron is hot, especially with the AAC likely to expand.
As far as who the Mountain West negotiates with, I think ESPN will get first dibs and will likely have the opportunity to match any other offer. I also think Fox will likely try to get in on negotiations, they have been dramatically changing their programming by adding more sports and even bringing WWE programming into the fold. They could cater to their west coast audience by adding some Mountain West football on Friday and Saturday nights.
As far as money goes, anything less than five million per school has to be considered a disappointment, right?
Jacob: Television rights are already inherently tricky, and the MWC’s current deal doesn’t exactly lend itself to easy interpretation. I think most fans understand that right now you are probably going to see the best games on CBS Sports Network, the best of the rest on the ESPN networks, and then some of the dregs get picked up by Stadium. The other thing fans understand is that most games worth watching are going to be played at 8:00 PM at night or later.
Here is what I would like to see:
- ESPN becomes the primary partner for MWC games. This should theoretically come with some sort of revenue increase that still falls short of what the AAC is getting per team for their deal. If we could get more than $2MM per team, I think that is a good deal.
- CBS or Fox Sports (I don’t care which, although I think Fox Sports regional networks are in a weird spot with the Disney acquisition) falls into the role that ESPN currently fills, and gets to pick games outside of the top-shelf offerings to broadcast on CBS Sports Network / Fox Sports.
- For the rest, I’d like to see content on ESPN+ or some other new medium. If Amazon, Facebook, and others are really serious about streaming live sports, I would love for them to throw some money at the MWC.
I am fine with some Friday games, especially early in the season. I don’t think you can avoid playing those marquee games at 8:00 PM or later, but when you get into the Tier III games, let’s try to set some afternoon kickoffs, yeah? As for length, I would hope that Craig Thompson and the gang stick to their previous comments about a contract lasting no longer than 6-7 years. The AAC got a good deal initially, but they are locked into that contract (including the responsibility to pay for the production costs) for thirteen years.
Media is always desperate for live content. Hopefully the MWC athletic directors and Thompson play a little bit of hard ball and inch closer to the AAC in terms of media revenue
Matt: No more games on CBS Sports, FIRE CRAIG THOMPSON, stop giving Boise preferential treatment. That’s my wishlist of things for the next deal..
Mike: I like the creativity from some teammates above, so I’ll borrow some of their ideas and put my own spin on things. With enough creativity and compromise, some issues should be addressed. I won’t pretend to know how realistic these ideas are, but I’ll keep them grounded (the MWC ain’t gonna be on ABC’s primetime slot every week)
- For my ideas, I like the double network arrangement for reasons I’ll explain. Let’s do two games a week on ESPN and all the others on Fox Sports. I won’t miss CBS sports, although I will miss tweeting Aaron Taylor quotes while I watch his broadcasts.
- Like I said, ESPN gets two games a week, One is the Saturday late night slot they are currently in on Saturdays, either ESPN or ESPN2. Then, they get the earlier time slot (6pm local time?) on ESPN or ESPN 2 but it’s on Friday nights. Every team is guaranteed to get one home game on each night. If ESPN wants to schedule it so Boise State, Fresno State and other more name brand or successful teams are the away teams in those scenarios, no complaints here. I get no one wants to watch SJSU and New Mexico on Friday night primetime. There’s a bit of give and take here, but it gives the conference national access.
- All other games are on Fox Sports. They need to partner with a conference and feature a lot of games and the MWC is just that conference. That leaves at least 4 games a week to feature and more with non-conference weeks. The timeslots may overlap a bit, as they don’t want to be kicking off at 7 or 8 in the morning local time. But something like 12pm, 2pm, 4pm, 7pm. Being a west coast conference still requires a late night game. The network decides who goes into which spot.
- I really like the idea of a shorter contract, say 5 years. The media landscape is changing and the MWC needs to be innovative with the times, but not too risky where they fall behind (MW Network anyone?). I like the idea of streaming some games, especially if Fox Sports game end up as regional coverage (especially for me here in Illinois).
- If the AAC is getting $7 million per team, the MWC shouldn’t ask for too much less. They should concede to getting less as the AAC has been the better conference for a few years and is in better TV markets. It would also be reasonable to expect they would get less money if they are committing for less years. I’d say ask for $6 million in hopes to get $5, and settle for $4.5 if you have to.
- Maybe have an option for another 5 years with different options depending on how this goes. Tell ESPN/Fox Sports we think we’re worth more and we will prove it to you over the next 5 years. If they prove it, they re-up for something equal or greater than the current AAC deal. If they don’t prove it, can do 5 years under the same terms that both parties need to opt-in to for it to take place.
Alex Wright: The Mountain West TV deal is one of the most anticipated things happening in the conference in recent years. Currently teams are making $1.1 million from their current TV deal, with Boise State getting a little more because of football. It will be important that the conference gets its teams the most amount of money as possible, while not falling too far off of the $1.1 million mark for each school.
Recently, the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), signed a deal for $4.5 million dollars with FloSports (which cost $12.99 a month). The Mountain West has to get more money than the CAA for this rights deal, and should absolutely avoid FloSports because nobody is paying $12.99 a month when there are other options that are cheaper.
A benefit of going to a streaming service or all digital platform is the conference can play its games at whatever time. I hate that the conference has 8:00 or 9:00 pm local time start weekday games, as do many fans. It’s a disservice to the universities, fans, players, and students. I would hope the conference splits away from CBS and CBS Sports Network. Personally, I hope the Mountain West heads back to NBC Sports. The only real competition from NBC and NBCSN is Notre Dame Football.
It could give NBCSN some great programming during the fall and winter months. Have a premier football game or two on NBCSN, and the championship game on their as well, along with some big time basketball games and the conference tournaments too. The have a deal with ESPN to maybe have some games on ESPN 2 and ESPNU, with ESPN+ being the streaming service.
The conference has to find a balance of doing something that will give them the most money and something that will nor hurt the fans. Are fans going to be fine with earlier kickoff and tip-off times to watch their favorite team, but have to pay $4.99 a month to watch other games? We will see, but the conference has to have the best interest of the universities and fans in mind.
Toby: I think it helps the MW that AAC got their contract and then lost UConn. I don’t like the fact that Boise State gets their own TV contract, but in reality it is probably the biggest thing keeping Boise State in the MW especially with the AAC looking for another school. The money the rest of the schools lose due to Boise’s own contract is less than what they would lose if Boise left the conference. So let them keep the contract. What the MW needs to do is improve the bottom half of the league to get a better deal. AAC member East Carolina who was 3-9 and in a college town of 100,000 had a done year in attendance and still have 35,000+ attend games. When one of your worst teams can get that type of draw deep in ACC country, you can negotiate a pretty good deal. The MW will probably get 5-7 year deal worth $5 million per school. I don’t think they should go long term, too much is changing so a long term deal will probably hurt the conference at the end $5 million might be good now, but it loses value over a 10 year deal. Were as, a 4 year deal at $5 million could be redone for say $6 million for another 4 years. Fox Sports or NBCSN would be great spots to land. Also, the conference needs to get better kick-off times. It doesn’t help the conference to have a game streaming or on live TV that is at the crazy time with a half empty stadium no one is going to see.