When Plan A, Plan B and Plan C don’t work, what do you do? If you are the Big East and faced with a monumental problem in structuring, marketing and perception and when you must live with the fact that you turned down a financial package that would have almost guaranteed your future for the forseeable future, you go outside the box.
Which is what Big East commissioner Mike Aresco is working on as he puts together new television packages in football and basketball.
In a move which might be perceived some as a major setback, the Big East is seriously considering an offer from NBC that is light financially, but filled with opportunities for the future.
Do not be surprised if the Big East accepts a low ball NBC 6-year offer of between 20 and 23 million dollars a year in the next few weeks.
At first glance, it appears to be another major blow for the Big East.
The league which had a very hard and lucrative 10 year, 155 million a year offer from ESPN for a 12 team football league less than 2 years ago, considering an offer that will pay between 20 and 23 million per year for FOOTBALL AND BASKETBALL from NBC?
If you look back 18 months to when the Big East turned down ESPN, you could find all sorts of bad guys in a saga of saga of miscalculation?
It’s easy to blame John Marinatto, the former Big East commissioner who was the point man for the negotiations when the offer by ESPN was rejected.
But that’s too simple.
Marinatto’s moves were dictated by the Presidents, particularly those at Pittsburgh and Georgetown, who were his prime backers when he was selected to replace former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese. Both argued strongly that the ESPN offer could be and would be topped by outlets such as NBC and Fox, who were desperate for programming.
The theory was that since the Big East was the only available BCS league without a long-term television deal, it would be a seller’s market. The Big East was the only game in time. That was the argument Marinatto was using, even though his inclination was to take the ESPN deal and run and run with it.
Throw in West Virginia, Rutgers and Notre Dame as other conspirators in the move away from ESPN and you have the ring leaders. Add former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue who was a consultant also arguing that expanding to other networks and other parts of the country were better and you have the major players pulling the strings behind the curtain.
But it gets better. Consider the schools that were yelling the loudest to turn down a deal which would have given each school approximately 13 million per year, which was 10 million more per year than the current Big East football contract, which has one year remaining.
Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Rutgers and Notre Dame. All have left or leaving the Big East.
So we move the clock forward about 18 months and the Big East is what?
Split apart in football by various defections, torn apart in basketball by the defection of the Catholic 7 as well as Notre Dame.
Aresco has been called lots of things, by lots of people. But it’s hardly his fault. He came in to major gun battle with a sling shot. He never had a real chance to make things right.
But he is working hard to put the best product together. And this one might work.
What he is going to do is turn back the clock to 1979 when ESPN was beginning and looking for programming for its outlet and found a new league called the Big East.
Don’t be stunned, or even surprised, if the Big East makes the same deal in terms of exposure and promotion with NBC, which has a fledgling cable sports network and is desperate for programming.
Right now, the Big East basketball does not have a television contract for next season when it will still be full powered with 18 teams including Louisville, Notre Dame, Rutgers and the Catholic 7, will be available. The current contract with ESPN and CBS runs out after this season.
So next year look for Big Monday to be on NBC cable. Look for the Big East tournament to be on NBC and NBC cable. Prime time exposure with prime time teams, a great starting point for a new network needing exposure.
In two years, when the Catholic 7 leave and Rutgers and Louisville head to the Big Ten and ACC, the football deal will kick in.
Look for NBC cable having a Big East game of the Week each Saturday. Look for prime time non-conference games such as a UConn-Michigan showing up on the main NBC network when Notre Dame is not playing at home.
Look for promotion and more promotion.
But what about the money? Or lack of it. At first, it will be very low. But it’s not a long-term deal. There will be “look in’s” clauses every couple of years. If takes off, the deal will be re-done for more money.
This could really work..
The Catholic 7–again led by Georgetown–will take their balls and sign a long-term deal with Fox to start their own 10 or 12 team play group, beginning in the fall of 2014. Maybe they will invite Xavier, Butler, St. Louis, Dayton, Creighton, VCU or Richmond or any combination that brings the total to 12.
The current Big East will emerge as a 10 team football league without a true dominant Top 10 contender on a consistent basis. It will be part of the non-BCS pack.
But it will have potential to get bigger and better. And it will have NBC promoting and cross promoting.
ESPN can still bid on the Big East, but the odds favor NBC. Aresco might be even able to sell some other Big East events to other networks to get some extra revenue, but NBC will be the prime time player.
The Big East will also have the Big East name–lots of luck or lots and lots of money for the Catholic 7 to get the name at this point.
The deal is not officially done yet, but its close and it really could work.
The Big East dead? Not so fast.
© 2013, Mark. All rights reserved.