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BTN in New York, DC, and Baltimore: Why Jim Delany should have learned from the Longhorn Network’s shortcomings

In the summer, I spend 30-40 days on the road, mostly in the Midwest. At night I love to kick back in my hotel room and watch sports. If I’m lucky, BTN will have a classic football game from the previous fall on. In a way, I’m the ideal BTN viewer: a twenty-something male, plenty of disposable income who’ll watch any sports that are on. If only the twenty-something guys in New York and DC watched as many rerun sports as I did.

Jim Delany put his reputation as a brilliant commissioner on the line when he invited Rutgers and Maryland into the Big 10, the later coming without a great football program and backlash from its fans. Delany’s gamble is that he will be able to take his valuable network into DC, Baltimore, and Manhattan, and its value will go up exponentially, all the while upping the offer he will eventually make to Notre Dame. But pondering the subject, one has to ask: are there as many potential BTN viewers in the beltway as BTN gained when they expanded into Nebraska? It may sound absurd, but perhaps Delany should have learned a lesson from how two networks modeled after BTN have struggled.

Catch the Longhorn Network recently?

BTN’s markets made the network as profitable as soon as it did, and the respective markets of the Longhorn and Pac-12 Networks have kept those networks in check. Big 10 country is full of states where people have to stay in in the winter and thus watch a lot of sports, and not just football and basketball but fringe sports. Turn on local sports radio in Lincoln or Cedar Rapids in April, and the announcers are talking Husker or Hawkeye baseball and softball. Factor into that you’ve got a huge market like Chicago, where alumni of rural Big 10 who have migrated to better jobs turn in every night to catch some local flair on their favorite teams, and you’ve got the recipe for a successful network.

On the other hand, both Texas and most of the Pac-12 region are flush with year-round outdoor recreation, and transplants whose favorite teams are in the states they left. Who would want to stay in and watch Texas’ greatest 1980’s win over Oklahoma, a season preview of Utah volleyball, or another profile of Pac-12 legend John Elway when there’s another hike to go in or a a beautiful river to boat in?

So, with that in mind, let’s look at Maryland and New York. Granted, both regions have Penn State alumni, which should increase viewership, and New York has migrants from all over the Midwest. And Big 10 Football, while not the best in the country (certainly not this year), provides some of the greatest scenes in college football, AKA the Big House and the Horseshoe. Remember, we are talking about sports programming, stuff you can put on at least one TV in every bar in the corner.  And the region does like quality basketball, so that should do well as long as the Big 10 succeeds in this arena.

But here’s the fundamental problem: the number one thing that the Big 10 sells is football. As we’ve seen in the case of LHN and the Pac-12 Network, you can’t sell a region something it doesn’t want. With all the entertainment options in New York and DC, people aren’t going to want to watch Indiana-Wisconsin games and other third tier games that BTN broadcasts. Yes, occasionally BTN will get an Iowa-Penn State game that interesting, but that’s the exception.

DC and New York may have transplants, but Baltimore is as parochial and unchanging as Boston. (Read an Anne Tyler novel.) Of course, this means they’ll be calling their cable providers to make sure they get Terrapins basketball, but don’t count on them tuning in for every practice report. Whether the region gets excited as a whole about Big 10 basketball remains to be seen. Outside of Indiana and Michigan State, there aren’t a lot of Big 10 schools that are organically passionate about basketball. Michigan and OSU have good programs, but those have piggy backed off of their football revenue.

Yes, there’s an argument that the local profiles of teams will help elevate the Big 10’s profile in the region. It will be easier for Big 10 programs to steal New Jersey, Maryland, and DC area recruits when they can sell them that all their games will be on networks everyone gets.With Syracuse moving to the ACC, travel won’t necessarily be any greater for a New Jersey player deciding between Syracuse, Rutgers, and BC. But while it will help recruiting-wise, it won’t help the rich young adults of DC and New York (AKA, the demo advertisers crave), buy BTN add time.

But maybe Delany realizes that getting into New York and DC won’t automatically increase the payouts he’s making to all of his schools…yet. Maybe he just had to get on in those markets so he could make a bigger offer to Notre Dame. That is what all college football realignment about in theory, landing either Texas or the Fighting Irish, the later who has eluded Delany for years. Maybe now Delany can finally say to Jack Swarbrick, “When you join are league, we’ll be able to triple our ad rates in New York and DC.”

(More Realignment Speculation)

Florida State-Big 12: A Match Made in Wonderland

Pointing West?

I’m sure if Tom Osborne had known that Florida State, the school of his old coaching pal, would eventually come to the Big 12, he never would have moved Husker nation to the Big 10. Seriously though: there is no good reason for Florida State to go to the Big 12, even if DeLoss Dodds shares the profits from the Longhorn Network. Even if the money is better, conference sustainability trumps dollar signs. What’s most remarkable about this potential realignment is that the ACC, the basketball league that established $25 million exit fees (which have kept Virginia Tech from seriously considering the SEC) and looked like it would swallow the Big East, looks like it could be headed for turmoil itself.

 

Old war foes almost conference foes?

Alas, if only Larry Scott had allowed Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, and Texas Tech to come into the Pac 12 last fall, and the rest of the Big 12 could have gone to the Big East, and this mess would be mostly over.

To Tomahawk Nation: even if the money in the Big 12 is better, that conference’s future can never be certain because of the Longhorn Network. In that conference, everyone else will be looking to leave, and Texas can always got to the Pac 12 because of the way the Pac 12 Network will be set up. Yes, there were thirteen years of hearing “Why do we need Florida State in this conference?” at the basketball coach’s meetings, but the ACC is not what the Big 12 was pre-2010 blow-up, Nebraska and Colorado, boom, outta here. You’ve got a good commissioner, now you just have to get him to work toward a conference network.

There is one scenario that Florida State moving to the Big 12 would make some sense: if there were five other institutions on board coming to the Big 12 with the Seminoles, thus forming the Big 16 and its own conference network. Imagine it: Florida State, Miami, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Rutgers, and UConn expand the Big 12’s reach into the east. Who cares if Iowa State’s closest division game is now in Morgantown, West Virginia? They always did their best when they recruited Florida. (Sorry, this is where the conference realignment post get as fanciful as Lord of the Rings.)

Future annual rivals?

This is just what happens in the long college football offseason: we get pointless stories like this. Let’s thank Chip Brown, and don’t forget Florida State: you have it good in the ACC. If you hire an elite coach (and eventually, you will), you’ll have an easy path to the national title game through Wake, North Carolina State, and eventually Syracuse, much easier than in the Big 12. Don’t get greedy like Texas A&M did.

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