Back in March, Jeff Rabjohns of the Indianapolis Star wrote an article describing not only how the Big Ten Network is "having a cascading effect throughout the college landscape" for women's basketball exposure, but also how television executives are seeing women's basketball as a key non-revenue sport with growth potential.
The new TV deal that the soon-to-be Pac-12 conference has agreed to with ESPN and Fox that will take effect for the 2012-2013 season seems to add support to both claims. However, while the focus will be on the $3 billion dollar figure for the primary television contract, the Pac-12 network is the underrated aspect of the deal that should excite women's college basketball fans the most.
Although only five women's basketball games will be broadcast on ESPN, the remaining slate of women's basketball games will be available on the new subscription Pac-12 network.
While even having games available on a digital broadcast network described as similar to ESPN3.com is a significant step forward - and an extention of the forward thinking embodied by the broadcasting this year's Pac-10 tournament on YouTube - what women's basketball fans should be paying attention to now is a big unanswered question as noted by Ryan Rosenblatt of SB Nation's Bruins Nation.
Breaking Down The Pac-12's New TV Deal With ESPN/Fox & Pac-12 Network - Bruins Nation
The big question here will be that Pac-12 Network and how the conference can get it picked up by cable and satellite carriers. If the conference can get the Pac-12 Network on your cable or satellite carrier then you will be able to watch every single football and women's basketball game played each and every season, along with most women's basketball games and many other olympic sports. It would be the ideal set up with maximum exposure for the conference and its fans IF they can get the network on all of the cable and satellite providers, something the Big 10 Network had problems getting done so it will be worth keeping an eye on that.
In terms of gaining exposure for women's basketball, the Big Ten Network also represents an important example of what can go wrong with these deals: BTN failed to get picked up by major cable distributors leaving marquee games unavailable to many fans. However, as Brian Floyd of SB Nation's CougCenter and SBN Seattle described, the strategic thinking of Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott should go a long way to addressing the question Rosenblatt raises.
Pac-12 Network The Underrated Aspect Of New TV Deal - CougCenter
Not only did Scott secure $3 billion for the primary television contract, he also has created a second source of sustainable income. The plan is to make the Pac-12 Network widely available in addition to an online component that resembles ESPN3. When Matt Daddy, from SB Nation's Addicted to Quack, and I discussed the media deal six months ago, this was the dream scenario: Make the network widely available and embrace newer forms of media, namely the online market.
But the former, creating a network carried widely throughout the country, could only be accomplished by withholding a significant stable of inventory. And it couldn't just be the leftovers; There had to be premium content on the Pac-12 Network. Essentially, Scott withheld half the inventory of Pac-12 football games, an average of three a week, for the conference network. And he still secured a $3 billion primary contract with ESPN and FOX.
The problem for BTN was not simply a matter of content, but whether it should be part of the basic cable package or an optional tier of programming. But assuming Scott and the Pac-10 have learned from those challenges, the network deal is a pretty impressive feat as Floyd describes and with there is obviously precedent now for negotiating these deals with cable and satellite providers.
In addition, this deal will likely have implications for the Big East, both in terms of establishing precedent and as a limiting factor as Mengus22 of SB Nation's Big East Coast Bias notes.
PAC 12 Media Deal Leaves Big East in Limbo - Big East Coast Bias
With the networks guaranteeing games for the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big XII, and now PAC-12 in prime-time slots, just when will they have time to show Big East football? Additionally, the primary factor driving up the value of these media rights deals is the fear of being left without sports programming. Now that the networks have locked up every other major conference (whose football product is significantly more valuable than the Big East's, unfortunately), just how afraid are the networks that the Big East will walk? Having so much already guaranteed programming, it appears the Big East has lost most, if not all, of its leverage in demanding big money from whoever is bidding to show its games.
But while we're on the subject of Big East Coast Bias, I would be remiss not to mention the impact of the Pac-12 network on east coast bias, using the example of Sean Keeley of SB Nation's Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician who had the courage to acknowledge the existence of this insidious phenomenon.
Pac-12 TV Deal: What's Left For The Big East? - Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician
As most of you can attest, when you live on the East Coast, you just don't care about West Coast sports. Especially PAC-10/12 college sports. The schools are so far away, they play their games at weird hours and you rarely see any of them on your schedule. One of the biggest reasons has to have been the PAC-10's TV deal.
And if there was east coast bias in football, it might have gone 10-fold in women's basketball - seeing anybody other than Stanford or UCLA has been extremely difficult. That used to be excusable. Now with increased availability, multiple access points, and hopefully scheduling that is more convenient for the other side of the nation, there will be no excuse for ignorance about Pac-10 sports beyond that which stems from digestion of too much Haterade.