The Mountain West debuted on the Fox family of networks in 2020, in accordance with their new media rights deal. It was a new era for the MWC, signaling an end to their relationship with ESPN. Was it the right move? This post will review a few of the major categories, evaluating each one over the past year. Of course, everything should be taken with a grain of salt due to the pandemic, but regardless, first impressions can still be made about the move from ESPN to Fox.
While there is no doubt the new deal gave the Mountain West teams a considerable boost of money (nearly four times what the old deal paid out), it’s not quite that straightforward. For starters, Hawaii does not receive that amount, while Boise State would receive more than that amount because they have the much-contested clause, which allows them to negotiate their home games separately.
There are no public records of what ESPN was offering the conference. While it was safe to say it was less than $4 million (as the conference would not have selected the lower offer), it isn’t accurate to compare Fox’s $4 million to ESPN’s $1.1 million. Furthermore, an increase from $1.1 million to $4 million is obviously significant, but keep in mind the old deal was signed in 2013; thus, the payout was always going to be more significant.
Regardless of what the offer from ESPN actually was, Fox’s was more money, which is a plus for the conference. And every school is happy to be getting larger payouts.
Channels and game days/times
It’s interesting to compare the old deal to the new deal in terms of what channel they are featured on. This category will be discussed in terms of parent networks (ESPN/CBS vs. FOX/CBS) and the main secondary channel (ESPN2 vs. FS1), as those are still featured channels.
- 2019: There were four games on ESPN (not counting the bowl games, which are already connected to a channel). Furthermore, there were 17 games on ESPN2
- 2020: Three games were on CBS and FOX, and a fourth (SJSU/Bosie State) was supposed to be after a game was canceled due to covid. However, that game was also canceled and wasn’t played. In addition to this, 12 games were featured on FS1.
- 2021: Plus primetime games on CBS and FOX. There are four games scheduled to be on CBS in the 2021 season. Two of them are Air Force against Navy and Army while they compete for the Commander-In-Chief Trophy. The other two are Boise State road games. So while it may not be an even distribution, it is still good exposure for the conference. Also, nine games are slated to be on FS1, with many games from October and November not yet announced, so expect that number to increase.
Something new for 2021 are morning games. They are sure to be critiqued as much as evening games, but it does increase exposure because more people will be awake. It also allows the MWC to play on major networks. Also, there are only four weeks out of the year that don’t feature a Friday evening game. Again, it allows a MWC team to be the main game on FS1 or CBS Sports, but it does throw off the routine. There are three weeks that contain a Thursday game, although one of those is in Week 1, which isn’t a big deal. The Thursday and Friday games add exposure, even if schools don’t always like them. There is a tradeoff with every decision, and this is what that tradeoff looks like in 2021.
In 2020, 10 games scored half a million viewers or higher, according to this site. Those games were: Boise State/BYU, Boise State/Utah State, San Diego State/BYU, San Diego State/Nevada, Nevada/Tulane, San Jose State/Boise State, San Jose State/Ball State, and Utah State/New Mexico. The two highest-rated games for the season were the championship game between SJSU and Boise State, which totaled 1.42 million viewers, and the bowl game between SJSU and Ball State, which totaled 1.77 million viewers.
Details for the 2019 season cannot be found. However, in 2018, there were 12 games with at least half a million views. Those games were San Diego State/Stanford, Boise State/Oklahoma State (1.43 million), Utah State/BYU, Hawaii/BYU, Fresno State/Boise State, Utah State/Boise State (1.07 million), Fresno State/Boise State MWC Championship (1.03 million), Utah State/North Texas, Hawaii/Louisiana Tech (1.15 million), Boise State/BC (1.44 million, canceled game), SDSU/Ohio (1.44 million), and Fresno State/ASU (season-high 3.33 million).
While the 2018 season clearly had more games in the category and higher viewership overall, some of that can be attributed to more games, more out-of-conference games, and more bowl games, with some of the latter two being on more prominent time slots and against Power 5 teams.
This one did not seem to make a big difference either way. Since the Mountain West still partners with CBS Sports as their secondary tv partner, there is still the weekly game with old pals Carter Blackburn and Aaron Taylor. As the “A-Team” of the evening slots, they aren’t the strongest duo, but there is some charm and appeal about watching them call games year after year.
Over on the Fox side of things, no one really stood out one way or the other, which is probably an overall positive. Or perhaps I don’t remember much writing this nearly nine months removed from college football games. The point is, Mountain West teams weren’t given the shaft on the announcer front. That did not always feel like the case in the previous media deal. Honestly, the only announcer crew that really sticks out is that the guy with gravelly voice left something to be desired. And anyone calling games from the studio can get a pass as it was during the pandemic. In year two, this section may reveal itself a bit more.
Championship Game exposure
This was converted a bit in an above category, but the most prominent conference game of the season also deserves its own section.
It’s hard to find a better date, time, and network for the Mountain West Championship game, whether with ESPN or Fox. In the old ESPN deal, the championship game was shown on ESPN and was either played in the early evening or the late afternoon, with more “A-team” type of announcer crews. Last year, the game was shown on FOX right in the middle of the afternoon and appears to be scheduled to do so again this year. It’s a major victory for the conference to show their title game on a network like FOX.
The aim of this post isn’t to point out which contract is better or worse but more to state the facts of what things have looked like since the Mountain West moved to Fox. If you have thoughts on the media deal, join the discussion in the comments section below.