By now, everyone and their uncle knows that the Big East and Big Ten are slated to begin an annual series in 2015 named after visionary and Big East founder Dave Gavitt. The details–aka the “what”–can be found here, here, here and basically everywhere during this college basketball dead period. It’s a pretty big deal.
And while some of those stories have touched upon the reasoning behind it, I have yet to see a true explanation of the “why” factor?
It starts and ends with FOX.
Yes, the Big Ten wants to have “a larger presence” in the Northeast, as the opening of a New York office clearly shows, but the Big East as a whole doesn’t command that large a following in its regional home base. Yes, teams like Georgetown, Villanova and St. John’s move the meter in a national setting when placed against quality opponents, but as a market standpoint, the Big Ten doesn’t need a full series to gain that access. It already has/will have it.
Maryland and Georgetown overlap markets, as do St. John’s/Seton Hall and Rutgers. Getting into Philly is nice, but having lived here a few months now, there isn’t this behemoth of a following for all things Nova. So while strengthening your presence in a high profile series certainly helps the Big Ten in the long run, it still doesn’t explain a series that will have them playing in Omaha and Milwaukee as often as it will in Providence and D.C.
For the Big East this is a giant life raft to relevancy, almost literally. Check out the TV numbers on FS1 from November last season.
That red number was a glaring deficiency, particularly in comparison to the other national networks. The Providence blog #pcbb does such a fantastic job of explaining how this helps the Big East I don’t think there’s anything I could add. Go read it for yourselves.
Here’s a nice synopsis of the paragraph I was most interested, and not just because they linked back here:
Another area where this will surely help the Big East is in their television ratings on Fox Sports 1. The numbers for November 2013 were absolutely horrible for Fox Sports 1. Some of that can be attributed to a new network and not many people even knowing what channel the games would be on. But a look at the actual numbers isn’t pretty either way. The average basketball game on Fox Sports 1 drew 64,813 viewers (a .03 rating). Of games where at least 1 Big East team was playing in November, the numbers were even worse: avg 59,688 (.02 rating). From Paint Touches, “The biggest factor, though, was the dearth of quality games. Of the 16 tilts broadcast on FS1, only four were between high-major teams. Unsurprisingly, those garnered the top three most viewed games, with Marquette at ASU coming in fifth. The rest were contests that would be lucky to have made ESPNNews, and would have been relegated to regional coverage 95% of the time.”
FS1 couldn’t pay people to watch some of the garbage match-ups it showed in November. This isn’t hyperbole, either. Villanova vs. Towson drew 8,000 viewers for a Sunday evening tilt on Nov. 17 last year. Those are public access numbers, not “I want to compete with the Worldwide Leader” numbers. What better way to remedy that than by bringing in the highest rated conference in college basketball?
The Big Ten had all 12 of it’s teams rank in the top-100 (with Nebraska bringing up the rear at around No. 54) of most viewed college basketball teams by my estimation, including five in the top ten. The Big East didn’t have any teams in the top-60.
For the Big East, this series is a gift from heaven, bringing attention, notoriety and most importantly, eyeballs. Maybe not from heaven, per se, but undoubtedly from a City of Angels.
FOX Sports, whose home base is in Los Angeles, threw exorbitant amounts of money around, relatively speaking, for the rights to the Big East last year. Bottom dweller extraordinaire DePaul is making more money off TV revenue than the national champion UConn Huskies are getting from ESPN (and that includes football). While the ratings trended in the right direction in March, they still relatively low in the grand scheme of things. FOX isn’t about halfway measures. It’s going all in. This is one way to move those ratings in the right direction.
Still that only gives us one side of the story. What would be the Big Ten’s justification for adding another inter-conference series, when it already is part of the most glamorous one in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge?
Did you know that FOX Entertainment Group (the company that owns FS1) owns 51% of the Big Ten Network. If only there were a way to translate one conference’s ratings dominance over to another, yet similarly owned, property.
Big Ten, meet Big East.
Make no doubt about it. This series doesn’t happen if FOX isn’t involved. Footprint this, partnership that, it’s all secondary. As it always is with not-for-profit athletics, it’s all about the money.
Oh, and guess who’s TV rights expire in 2016. Why yes, the Big Ten’s. With FOX Sports expected to make a billion dollar bid for those rights, what better way to get a dry run? This is a win, win, win situation for everyone involved.