July 10, 2008

This TV Deal Will Cost You

By Hayes, Matt

The Big Ten is getting its network in order-and the SEC is next. It came and went last week with barely a blip on the radar.

It should've shocked the senses.

The Big Ten and cable giant Comcast kissed and made up, and that means you and I and anyone interested in fall ball will be paying big bucks in the near future.

Television, you see, is a world of copycats. Once something is successful, everyone follows.

The Big Ten and Comcast had been haggling for the past year over a subscriber fee, and the catfight kept the fledgling network off cable-and mostly on dish-for its inaugural season.

So Comcast agreed to a fee, and-here's the key-after this year's basketball season it has the right to shift the Big Ten Network to its digital service (and charge more). You better believe other heavyhitting cable companies will follow and start carrying the channel

Why is this important? Three letters: SEC.

For three years now, the SEC has quietly looked into the feasibility of owning its own network So this is what Mike Slive, SEC commissioner and one of the more brilliant minds in sports, did: He let the Big Ten take the first step, absorb the first public relations hits, make the first errors, lose the first dollars and show the path of least resistance.

Guess what television contract is up for sale this fall? Yep, the SEC's. And everyone wants a piece of the sweetest action in town.

FOX president Ed Goren beamed in May when I asked whether he was interested in the SEC television rights. He knows CBS will have first dibs at re-upping with the league and probably has the edge, but FOX has what CBS doesn't a track record of co-ownership with the Big Ten Network.

CBS has a new college network of its own-it purchased CSTV last November-but FOXs experience with the Big Ten Network (it owns 49 percent of the operations) and understanding of what it takes to run the show will drive the price of the SEC contract to record figures.

CBS is desperate to keep the SEC, just like CBS was desperate to keep the NCAA Tournament in 1999 and forked over an unfathomable $6 billion to do it Now CBS sees the SEC is flirting with FOX, which is drunk off the success of its BCS bowl package and badly wants games in the regular season.

This, boys and girls, is what we call capitalism. The SEC has the supply and will demand millions upon millions for it Eventually, someone has to pay for that fat contract one way or the other.

Just like someone has to pay for Big Ten football games when Comcast magically moves the network to its digital package next spring.

That someone is you.

By Matt Hayes

[email protected]

Copyright American City Business Journals, Inc. d/b/a Sporting News Jun 30, 2008

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