Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Could Rogers/NHL-Type Deal Happen In America Next?

For the next 12 years, there will be one sole rightsholder to hockey up north. All it took was $5 billion for Rogers Communications to secure the English and French language rights to the NHL in Canada. Could the same type of deal possibly happen in the U.S.? Let's look at the prospects.

The NFL and MLB recently solidified long term deals with a vast array of partners for many years to come, so for at least the next decade we'll never see this type of precedent hold steady for those two leagues. It could play out differently though for the NBA, Big Ten and MLS which all have expiring contracts.

NBA (unlikely, but I wouldn't be surprised)
  • I doubt the NBA would do this kind of deal unless someone overpays them beyond their market value. They see how much the NFL benefits from multiple partners and probably want to do the same thing. But if there's anyone who would be willing to splurge, I'd say it's ESPN.
  • In order to further align itself with the NBA and control the sport like it controls college football, it wouldn't shock me if ESPN:
    • took over operational control of NBA TV
    • set up a joint movie division dedicated to promoting basketball in the vein of 30 for 30
    • encouraged potential NBA phenoms to join the NBDL rather than go to college and made the NBDL a main attraction on ESPNU
    • formed a separate entertainment division which gave NBA stars the opportunity to star in their own TV shows and/or Disney movies (like Kevin Durant's "Thunderstruck" film)
    • broadcast the NBA every night on ESPN2 while also increasing the amount of NBA talk which is seen on all of ESPN's properties
    • subliscened Thursday night games and some playoff games to Turner while controlling all editorial content and on-air talent
    • made Sunday night, the NBA's night since 1. the night is basically free between February and June, 2. ESPN has always had a struggle filling in Sunday nights when it's not baseball season 3. it's one of the most watched nights on television so broadcasting afternoon and primetime marquee games across multiple ESPN networks simultaneously could help the game a lot. 4. The NBA doesn't really have it's own night, unless you count Thursday (even though they share it with the NFL and college football).
  • Fox would be able to make it work as well since they have so many networks dedicated to the male audience (FS1, FS2, FX, FXX, FSN) but I doubt they're willing to put in billions of dollars to be the sole proprietor responsible for popularizing basketball when they have no prior relationship with the NBA, they have other commitments they have to make with their other deals and most importantly, the NFL is a bigger ratings draw. You don't want to be stuck with not having enough money to bid for the NFL Thursday night package because of splurging too much money into the NBA.
  • Turner would LOVE to do this kind of deal but they don't have the money to do it. The only potential partner who could help them, CBS, probably isn't ready to commit a lot of money to professional basketball unless it is profitable. 
MLS (very unlikely)
  • Rumor has it that this is the type of deal NBC wants to do with the MLS and US Soccer, but that the MLS isn't willing to do it unless NBC pays them with a substantial premium. Due to MLS' low ratings though, NBC isn't willing to pay that premium. So it looks like without a doubt, MLS will be selling to multiple buyers which could include NBC non-exclusively.
Big Ten (very likely)
  • ESPN and the Big Ten used to be close buddies. At one point in time, ESPN covered the Big Ten more than the SEC but as the quality of football product got better in the SEC, the Big Ten got put on the backburner. ESPN2 still broadcasts a lot of Big Ten football on Saturday afternoons but you can tell through the way ESPN presents it's college football coverage nowadays that the SEC is their #1 preference. It also helps that ESPN is starting a brand new sports network together with the SEC schools. 
  • Fox has the rights to the Big 12, Pac 12 and C-USA but none of those properties are marquee enterprises at Fox. C-USA is only used as filler programming and isn't really a major conference. The Big 12 is shared with ESPN, it's affiliates and coming soon Campus Insiders while the Pac-12 is also shared with ESPN and the Pac-12's own TV network. The only conference Fox seems to be aligned with though is on the basketball side with the Big East.
  • Taking the Big Ten away from ESPN and it's other rivals would make a big statement about Fox's commitment to live sports. Fox would finally have a conference it can fully indulge itself in and they would be working with a conference that is a good friend since Fox already owns half of the Big Ten Network and owns the rights to the Big Ten Championship game.

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