BCS moves to ESPN


Fox failed to match the ESPN bid by Monday’s deadline, so the official announcement came yesterday: The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) to determine the US college football champion will move to ESPN after the current Fox deal runs out next season. The four year deal for a reported $500 million will put the BCS on ESPN from January 2011 through 2014. The deal is multimedia, giving ESPN exclusive television, radio, digital, international and marketing rights.

Under the new contract, ESPN will have exclusive rights to broadcast the Fiesta, Orange and Sugar Bowls each season and the BCS National Championship Game in 2011, 2012 and 2013. ESPN’s Disney sister ABC has the rights to the other BCS bowl game, the Rose Bowl, and the contract includes a provision which would allow Disney to move that to ESPN as well.

Financial details of the new contract were not disclosed, but SportsBusiness Daily had reported that ESPN bid $500 million, or $125 per year, a 50%-plus increase from the $82.5 million that Fox is paying annually under the current contract. Fox had until Monday to match that bid, but passed.

“The BCS will thrive on ESPN. Our slogan is ‘College Football Lives Here’ and the BCS will now top college football’s best regular-season and studio coverage, the sport’s top awards shows, Bowl Week and other national championships all carried on our family of networks. This is a proud day for ESPN and an exceptional day for this great sport and its passionate fans,” said George Bodenheimer, President, ESPN Inc. and ABC Sports.

“We are tremendously pleased to reach an agreement with ESPN and feel that the BCS games from 2011-14 will be in good hands. With the continued growth of technology and the depth of coverage that ESPN gives to the college football fan on all its platforms during the regular-season, this post-season partnership is a natural fit,” said John Swofford, BCS Coordinator and ACC Commissioner.

Here’s how ESPN laid out its multi-media plan for the BCS:

ESPN, currently available in 98 million homes, will televise these BCS bowls (Fiesta, Orange, Sugar and National Championship Game) in primetime each January. The official BCS schedule for 2011 and beyond will be released at a later date. Also, when weekly BCS standings begin, they will be unveiled on ESPN each Sunday (show and time TBD).

ESPN Radio
ESPN Radio, which has broadcast all BCS games since 2000, gains exclusive national radio rights for the length of the deal (2011-2014). ESPN Radio is in the midst of a sub-license agreement (expires in 2010) with current BCS rightsholder Fox to broadcast the games. ESPN Radio currently has 750 affiliates that carry content, including more than 335 full-time affiliates. In addition, ESPN Deportes Radio has exclusive Spanish-language rights.

Digital Media
Digital media is another major part of the new ESPN-BCS arrangement. ESPN.com, the leading sports website, receives significant content rights, and will operate the official BCS website (bcsfootball.org), which features standings, updates, history, news and more. In addition, games may be simulcast online through ESPN360.com, ESPN’s signature 24/7 broadband sports network; and on mobile devices through ESPN Mobile TV, ESPN’s first 24/7 channel for wireless.

Additional Components
ESPN International will distribute and televise the BCS matchups around the world through networks and syndication, including on the re-branded ESPN America (known as NASN until Feb. 2009), the only network in Europe completely dedicated to North American sports. In addition, ESPN has the right to televise BCS games on ESPN Deportes, the U.S. Spanish-language sports network.

RBR/TVBR observation: We await the reaction from Capitol Hill. Sure, our elected legislators have other things to deal with, like the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, but nothing gets them riled up like a sports-related controversy. Taking the most important games in college football off of free TV is not going to sit well with some lawmakers.