It’s a new year and the rights deals are flowing.
Fox, looking to bolster its position in college football after seeing ESPN wrest away the Bowl Championship Series last year, tackled a rights and sponsorship deal for the inaugural Pac 12 Conference championship football game (nee the Pac 10), tentatively set for Dec. 3. Meanwhile, Fox Sports Net added regular-season football and basketball games, reflective of new conference members Utah and Colorado.
FSN also notched a five-year TV deal with Conference USA that picks up and expands on the six-year pact with ESPN that concludes this spring. Under the pact, FSN will televise 20 college football games — compared with 10 under ESPN’s watch — 10 regular-season men’s basketball games, five women’s basketball games and some Olympic sports. FSN also grabbed the rights to the circuit’s championship football game, as well as men’s and women’s basketball title tilts, and can switch key events to broadcast brethren Fox or 98-million home cable cousin FX.
Much more importantly, a couple of big rights deals are apparently on the boil. Sports Business Daily reports that ESPN is nearing a renewal of its NFL and Monday Night Football pact that will run nine or 10 years for up to $19 billion, upon the expiration of its current contract at the end of the 2013 season.
At $1.9 billion per season that would represent a 73% hike over the average $1.1 billion ESPN pays under its current contract, already the highest of all NFL carriers. Under deals that were extended in 2009, DirecTV allocates $1 billion annually for the Sunday Ticket out-of-market, pay-per-view package, Fox $720 million for its National Football Conference package, CBS $620 million for American Football Conference action and NBC over $600 million for Sunday Night Football, currently TV’s top show.
The prospective long-term pact prevents anybody else — Turner’s TNT or TBS, Fox’s FX, Comcast’s Versus — from getting at the most-watched franchise in cable history into the next decade and figures to put MNF on broadband service ESPN3.com. According to SBJ, the new contract evidently doesn’t extend to mobile, nor will it put ESPN in the Super Bowl party. Perhaps it will include a playoff match in the latter years of the deal.
Guess the retention of those rights and the ability to incorporate highlights, while talking NFL all week long across myriad existing and future platforms, justifies the steep rise in rates. And it’s certainly good to be the king and foot much of your NFL bill with monthly subscriber fees easily exceeding the $4 mark and counting. Still, it’s a huge jump in rights, in what at this point perhaps can be construed as a case of ESPN bidding against itself. Or do you think any of the other parties would be willing to shed that kind of coin for MNF?
That won’t be case with the Olympics. The International Olympics Committee has postponed bidding for U.S. TV rights to the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia in 2014 and the Summer Games in Rio de Janiero in 2016 for more than a year because of the nation’s tough economy and slumping advertising market.
Now, the Associated Press reports that IOC Finance Commission chairman Richard Carrion said that all networks interested in securing U.S. TV rights want the package to encompass four Games — Sochi, Rio and the Winter and Summer Olympics that follow in 2018 and 2020, but do not yet have attached host cities. As such, the IOC is now considering bundling the four Games together with AP’s story indicating that one Olympic official said ESPN and Fox have been “among the most adamant” for that kind of deal. A CBS-Turner team is also expected to be in the hunt, not to mention incumbent NBC, which following FCC and DOJ approval, should soon be under the auspices of Comcast.
Of course, NBC and its Olympic champion Dick Ebersol have been down the multiple Games path before. The Peacock, with General Electric’s backing, secured the rights to the 2004, 2006 and 2008 competitions in one fell swoop back in December 1995, bypassing a bidding process. That win came just several months after NBC paid for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.
The competition figures to be tougher this time round and with the four-pack of Games rights pushing well past the $4 billion mark. That will certainly be a litmus test for what life will be like for NBC Sports under the cable company, which doesn’t have engines, turbines and other machinery to sell around the globe, like GE does. Still, Comcast could use the Games to significantly build the profile and license fees for national cable network Versus.
It’s unclear what the timing for the Olympic and NFL deals might be, but in the end, the organizations will back up the truck to collect their respect rights fee wads, just like Damon and Keenen Ivory Wayans did on the “Homeboy Network” segments on Fox’s venerable 1990s’ sketch comedy In Living Color.
The question is do you imagine IOC president Jacques Rogge as Whiz and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell playing Iceman? Or do you envision Goodell portraying Whiz and Rogge as Iceman? Either way, it’s Mo’ Money, Mo’ Money, Mo’ Money…