Thursday, March 4, 2010

A random rant about Big Ten expansion

I stumbled across an old ESPN article the other day about the New York cable companies (among many others) refusing to carry NFL Network because of the cost. This is way-old news and doesn't reference college football in any way, so why do I care about it? I care because it kinda sorta indirectly relates to Big Ten expansion and the viability of Rutgers as a candidate.

(Insert forewarning here about my lack of expertise in TV ratings/operations.) Basically, to carry a channel, cable companies have to pay the provider the cost per subscriber (which varies based on the desirability of the channel, obviously). Most of that cost is then passed on to subscribers. ESPN, for example, is $3.00 per subscriber, but everybody wants it, so companies like Comcast and Cablevision and Time Warner are more or less obligated to carry it. They refused (and Time Warner still refuses) to carry NFL Network because the cost is between $0.61 and $0.75 (depending on who you believe), and they feel that it wouldn’t make sense to have somewhat of a niche channel on basic cable, where every subscriber pays for it. Most people don’t want to pay even 61 cents a month for something they never watch. The only way you can get it is on a premium package, because then you’re paying the cost directly.

If Rutgers joined the Big Ten, it'd be safe to assume that the same thing would happen with the Big Ten Network. The Big Ten has far fewer interested fans than the NFL does in New York/New Jersey, so there’s no way Time Warner and Cablevision (which comprise pretty much all of the New York TV market) would put it on basic cable, especially when you consider the price.

The cost per subscriber is $1.14, so that amount times the metro New York population of 18.8 million (if EVERYONE got the channel on basic cable) would be around $22 million, which is exactly what the Big Ten should be looking to generate from a new school in order for each school to make money via expansion (each school currently gets $22 million from the TV revenue pot). There are also around 8 million people in New Jersey who aren't part of metro New York City, so the total added TV revenue would actually be about $30 million. That’d be outstanding.

But it’s not gonna happen, because most of those subscribers aren’t going to get it on basic cable (maybe some will in New Jersey, but not a significant number). So let’s say, hypothetically, that 25% of the people in metro NYC pay for the premium package with the Big Ten Network on it. That seems fairly generous given the general lack of interest in college sports in the NYC area and the fact that most Big Ten games are already on national TV, but I think it’s reasonable. In that case, the $1.14-per-subscriber figure is now multiplied by 4.5 million (in metro NYC) and, just to pull a number out of my ass, another 6 million in New Jersey (75% of the population, another pretty generous number). So $1.14 x 10.5 million = $12 million. Meh.

Granted, that’s more pure TV money than would be made by adding Missouri (total population 6 million, although most of it probably would get BTN on basic cable) or Pitt (no net addition since most of Pennsylvania already gets BTN). But that’s not a huge amount, and I feel like to add a mediocre football program and a terrible basketball program -- both of which would do nothing for you nationally from a competitive or prestige standpoint -- the monetary aspect would have to be overwhelming, and $12 million (roughly) to split between 12 schools isn’t overwhelming when each school is already getting $22 million.

I know some people say getting more exposure in the Northeast would help in other ways, but I’m not sure what those other ways are. The number of D-I football prospects in New York and New Jersey is extremely small (this year, there were a total of FOUR four- or five-star recruits in the two states combined), so why does it matter if more people there are watching Big Ten football? Money, right? It doesn’t really help on the field (maybe on the court), and it doesn’t help enough financially to make up for that.

Personally, I’d much rather have the athletic boost from Pitt (high-level football and Big East basketball power) or Missouri (solid football and nearly annual NCAA tournament appearances along with six Elite Eights).

Upshot: Other than a not-that-significant boost in TV revenue, I don’t see adding Rutgers doing anything positive for the conference. And yes, I've already said this in fewer words, but the idea of Rutgers being relegated to the sports tiers in NYC (which seems certain) just added to my concerns.

1 comment:

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