So the Big Ten is getting a new television deal and Fox is reportedly set to pay a stupid amount of money for half the TIER I television rights with ESPN the most likely candidate to pick up the other half- now, over at Hawkeye Nation there was a fascinating podcast about this very thing that's worth a listen. So, here's the link, go listen and then let me know when you're done, all right?
OK- so you listened, right? Good. Let's talk about this:
I think the point that Deace keeps hammering on in the podcast is a good one. Demographically, the Big Ten is not in a good place- populations are shifting away from the Rust Belt that's traditionally been the Big Ten heartland and in terms of the conference's geographic footprint, the power is shifting south and east in a big way. (It could also be shifting west and south- but westward expansion unless Delaney blows up the Big 12 to get Texas and/or Oklahoma is a dim prospect in my book.) So, from that point of view, you need to do something- which makes further expansion not a possibility but an inevitability.
But the Big (or B1G as the case may be) question is this: are the Tier I rights for the Big Ten enough to turn FS1 into a serious competitor to ESPN? (The crux of Miller's argument was that yes, yes it does.) Delaney might be aiming five or ten years down the road when the current cable model has crumbled and things like a la carte or streaming become more viable. (And that's coming: if anyone like Netflix gets into the live sports game and figures out how to do that, it's game over for cable) but what if that time line is like two to four years? What if the bubble is bursting now?
The deal is for six years... here's what I'd bet on if I was a betting man:
1. More expansion. I think the next round is going to break the geographic footprint- Miller and Deace make a persuasive case for Georgia Tech. I'm not sure about Texas, but if the B1G can get Texas, they'd be crazy not do that. (Other combinations: Virginia and UNC, Notre Dame and just about anyone. I think UCONN would be on a list somewhere too, just to lock down New England, but who knows.)
2. Preparations for a post-cable future: Deace wasn't wrong- the programming outside of live sports on the B1G Ten network sucks out loud. Which is stupid, because you have some of the best journalism programs in the country scattered throughout the conference and if you're thinking straight, you'd be using them as your farm team. Why do you need to attract top talent when you can develop it and push it upward- especially to Fox? They've already got some student productions of things like Water Polo floating around on the channel. Expand those and put them on a digital platform. No need to farm out the big sports just yet- but everything not on television should be made available on a streaming platform that's a. reliable and b. easy to use.
If we can plant our flag solidly in the south over the next six years and set ourselves up for whatever is coming after cable, the B1G will be sitting pretty heading into the future. The problem is that no one has figured out what the future of live sports is quite yet. But I'm willing to bet that whatever it is and whatever it's going to look like, it's on it's way.