ESPN, Fox in BCS bidding war
ESPN or Fox will likely pay 50 percent more than the last BCS contract
Despite widespread fan dissatisfaction, BCS ratings have been strong
If ESPN wins, the BCS would be the first major American championship on cable
USC coach Pete Carroll thinks the BCS "stinks." Two of the nation's largest television networks apparently disagree.
According to reports this week in the Sports Business Journal and USA Today, Fox and ESPN are in the midst of a bidding war to secure the BCS' next four-year contract (for the 2010-2013 seasons), with the winner to be decided within the next week.
As of Wednesday, ESPN appeared to be the clear frontrunner. The Disney-owned network is offering a four-year, $500 million deal for the rights to the Fiesta, Sugar, Orange and BCS Championship games (ABC already has a preexisting deal with the Rose Bowl), which would mark nearly a 50 percent increase over Fox's current deal. (Sources close to the negotiations say that's about the figure BCS officials originally targeted.)
Mind you, ESPN's proposed deal does not involve its sister network, ABC, as one might assume. ESPN plans to broadcast all five bowls -- including the national-title game. The BCS Championship Game would become the first major American sports championship to be broadcast on cable. (ESPN declined comment for this story.)
Fox, during an exclusive negotiating window that ended Oct. 31, offered to pay $102 million per season, a 25 percent increase from its current deal but about $100 million less over four years than ESPN's subsequent offer. Fox now has a few days to come up with a counteroffer.
"It is an ongoing process and we have until Monday to respond to the current offer that the BCS has on the table," Fox spokesman Dan Bell said Wednesday. However, multiple sources close to the negotiation say it's unlikely that network will be able to match ESPN's figure.
To many of you, this probably sounds like a whole lot of hullabaloo over an entity the large majority of the public outwardly despises. However, for all the annual criticism the BCS receives, people still watch the games in huge numbers.
The past two BCS Championship Games on Fox averaged 25.9 million viewers. The only show on television that regularly draws a larger audience is American Idol.
Of more importance to ESPN is the fact that college football in general is enjoying unprecedented popularity.
Over the past few years, ESPN's family of networks have amped up their coverage considerably, what with a daily College Football Live show, an increased number of game broadcasts on weeknights, as well as on other channels and online, and the inception of a weekly ABC prime-time game that has earned good ratings. (The Nov. 1 Texas-Texas Tech game drew 12.2 million viewers, fifth-highest of any game in that network's history.) ESPN also recently brokered a historic 15-year, $2.5 billion rights deal with the SEC.
The network's mantra "College Football Lives Here" rings hollow, however, when the biggest games of the season reside on another network. It desperately wants to reclaim the BCS.
"CBS would never let anyone take away the Masters, and NBC feels the same way about Wimbledon and the Olympics," said TV sports consultant Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports. "Now we have ESPN basically staking out its position as the No. 1 college football carrier, and I think that they regretted not being more competitive four years ago and allowing [the BCS rights] to go to Fox."
The climate surrounding those negotiations four years ago was far different than today. In February 2004, the BCS's presidential oversight committee and a coalition of presidents for the so-called "non-BCS" schools brokered the existing BCS model of five bowl games and greater access for the smaller-conference schools. Loren Matthews, then ABC's chief college sports exec, feared declined interest in the new product. When his proposal to the BCS commissioners that spring for a "plus-one" game fell on deaf ears, ABC made a lowball offer to retain the BCS rights. (ABC was the sole broadcast partner for the BCS's first eight years.)
Fox, despite no regular-season college football programming on its network, stepped in that fall with a higher, albeit still modest offer to take over the games. Essentially, it bailed out the BCS.