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PostPosted: Mon Dec 11, 2006 9:05 am 

Joined: Mon Feb 23, 2004 10:22 am
Posts: 1030
New Haven Register articles (two parts):


Tune in to Change: Big East-ESPN TV deal changing complexion of college basketball
Brett Orzechowski, Register Staff

Aside from hairstyles (we’re addressing Donyell Marshall, center, and Jim Calhoun, not so much thingy Vitale), a lot has changed for both the University of Connecticut and ESPN since 1994. Bob Stowell/Special to the Register

The middle man was in place, but then again, after more than a quarter-century of conducting business the negotiation between the Big East Conference and ESPN was not the difficult part.

The result from taking a chance on something so revolutionary and complex remains the only unknown. Beginning next men’s college basketball season, the risk becomes reality. In the process, the entire country will be formally introduced then re-introduced and introduced yet again to the Big East. Over a six-year span, the change may be more advanced than initially anticipated.

When the two sides finished their new men’s college basketball television contract in late August (which also included women’s basketball; football was a separate deal that begins in 2008-09), the announcement passed with average fanfare. The media treated it as just another television deal. Fans perceived it as just another way for the conference to solidify its current standing with just a contract renewal.

But at conference offices across the country, commissioners and their staffs raised their brows when told how many games the Big East will televise each season beginning in late 2007.

As for the conference, commissioner Michael Tranghese felt the time was right to expand again. Sources say the agreement is almost as lucrative than any other conference deal in the

The six-year agreement for an undisclosed amount will give the 16 Big East men’s basketball teams unprecedented exposure as the most widely distributed conference in the country — 30 percent of the United States’ potential viewers in just those programs’ cities or regions will have the chance to see some team from the largest conference in the country every night, whether it’s South Florida or Villanova.

That number grows to more than half or the entire country, depending on a television subscriber’s cable package, east to west coast, and whether it is a national game. With exposure comes recruiting, with recruiting comes better players and better players, most coaches hope, equals success.

What the new television deal assures, and in some ways demands, is that the Big East has staying power along with the opportunity to not only become the most dominant group of teams in the game but to maintain its standing as a formidable major conference, once a novel idea that has been supplanted by the emergence of mid-major meddling. This may also ensure that the cycle of success revolves back to the 1980s, arguably the most intriguing era in college basketball.

The change will not be sudden in a world in need of instant gratification. It will be a gradual progression, but most agree, it will happen.

"We realized that we could make a deal that separates us from the rest of the country but I don’t think people understand the full breadth of our agreement just yet," Tranghese said. "I tell people all the time, you may not want to see us, but you’ll see us."

All sides say it was a collaborative effort with Tranghese and his staff to John Wildhack, ESPN’s vice president of programming/acquisitions/strategy and some other key players from the network. Add a conference television committee comprised of Big East athletic directors, including the University of Connecticut’s Jeff Hathaway, and everyone who had a stake in the deal was represented.

Then there is Tom Odjakjian, the middle man, an associate commissioner at the Big East. For 14 years, he worked at the Bristol-based cable network in various roles. For the past 12, Odjakjian has been at the Big East. He likes to define his professional career in sports like this: "I used to buy the Big East, now I sell it."

He has been involved in a number of deals with marketing the conference, through football and basketball, old and new media, and almost everything else in pushing the product. Odjakjian spends the entire month of August piecing together the conference basketball schedule, through arena conflicts, time slots and overall needs.

When the conference expanded to 16 teams last year, it also made the scheduling that much more complex. Now the norm in sports, television dictates scheduling, and in a way, sports as a whole. Both the Big East and ESPN knew the current television contract, which expires after this season, was up for possible renewal. The two sides first met in January of this year. By the late spring, a template was established.

Around the same time, Odjakjian walked into a meeting with most of the major national conferences represented and hinted at what was being discussed. Odjakjian said he was asked how many games the Big East planned to televise. He told them.

They asked him if he was joking.

The deal

Forget ratings and shares, legalities and the contractual fine print. To dissect every complex aspect of the deal would be a laborious task.

Instead, here is a brush of the surface. This is what the country will see.

Next winter, ESPN viewers will be able to watch every Big East men’s college basketball game – all 139, including the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden in early March. The five games CBS will televise nationally will also be broadcast on any one of the ESPN channels in your cable package. CBS also chooses which five to broadcast.

This is a significant jump from this season, when the Big East will be featured on ESPN 70 times while CBS plans to air 12 games.

Viewers in Tampa, Fla., a new recruiting ground for the conference, will be treated to DePaul and Providence, where as basketball fans in Chicago will tune in to Louisville and Seton Hall. Parents from Arizona, like current UConn freshman Gavin Edwards’, will have the opportunity to watch every game as promised by the coaches who recruited their son. So will the weekend regulars at a sports bar in Spokane, Wash.

In terms of men’s basketball, sources said the deal is on par monetarily with other conferences but is the most widespread in college sports. When the Big East became more conceptual than geographical last year, Tranghese said they were handed 16 teams and thought, "what should we do with this?"

The only answer, he added, was to grow.

Much has been written, from articles to books, about the relationship ESPN and the Big East have developed over nearly three decades, growing from their embryonic stages to their current stature. After all, ESPN’s Wildhack explained, this remains a business, and agreements stem from long-standing relationships.

Both were established in the same month, Sept. 1979, as regional entities with college basketball as their focal points. In its early stages, ESPN’s "Big Monday" highlighted a Big East match-up with the most appeal (usually Georgetown, Syracuse, St. John’s and Villanova). Then a cable subscriber could watch the replay in the early-morning hours, followed by yet another replay at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Since programming has evolved and ESPN has branched out to other sports and leagues, college and professional, the Big East has remained a staple during the winter months. Almost every conference in the country has a link to ESPN, from the newly created "Bracket Busters" and "Championship Week" in early March, to "College GameDay", now in its third year. UConn has been chosen to participiate in all three season-opening show, including the Jan. 6 game this season at LSU.

The network will never stray from its mainstays, but with its deal with the Big East, it went a step further.

From the conference’s side, Tranghese said all schools must benefit somehow with elements from the current agreement. This was a concern with expansion. The conference wanted West Virginia to benefit as much as Pittsburgh, even with the schools just more than an hour apart but in the same television market. Still, they didn’t want schools to benefit just regionally. They wanted programs to be highlighted on a national level.

From ESPN, the network wanted to use all its multi-media facets. Most of its programming branches off, from unique content to live-stream video. And much like espn2 was a novelty a few years ago, ESPN launched its customized broadband service, ESPNU and ESPN360, within the last two years. Now, espn2 is part of most basic cable packages. Both the network and the Big East firmly believe the two new options will become the norm within the time frame of the new six-year contract.

Both sides wanted to reach every fan and consumer. They wanted quicker, confident and more sophisticated distribution and programming. As Wildhack said, the Big East has to be approached as more than just a conference.

"The Big East was perfect in this situation. They are the deepest in the country with deep lineage like Georgetown and UConn and it now has teams like Marquette. There is nothing like that anywhere," Wildhack said. "We wanted to take the next iterations and make it absolutely cutting edge. We then asked ourselves, ‘is the Big East going to displace the Big Ten?’ What we saw is that the Big East as a branding is more prevalent. And with that, the Big East expands again."

So the deal was created over a nine-month period with almost no conflicts.

It was signed with fewer reservations.

Same and new traditions

The traditional viewer in Milwaukee, Wis., has clicked on their television for decades to watch the Big Ten on ESPN and the University of Wisconsin. Now, they will get to know Marquette men’s basketball coach Tom Crean very well.

The same applies to the longtime Northwestern or Indiana fan in perhaps Chicago. Mike Brey is trying to develop Notre Dame as DePaul looks to make a niche in the Big East after defecting from Conference USA.

The casual fan may start watching this happen on ESPN. But they will have a choice.

In June, the Big Ten and Fox announced they will start exclusively televising their conference programming nationally in 2007 on their own channel. Beyond the nearly 67 million people in the eight-state radius that makes up the Big Ten, the conference decided that it had enough national standing with its alumni to establish its own outlet. It plans to televise 105 men’s college basketball games in addition to 35 football games among other events.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said he felt ESPN, CBS and ABC could not "provide us with a branding opportunity" like this new endeavor. The deal with Fox is for 20 years.

Beyond regional exposure, skeptics wonder if the Big Ten carries enough of a fan base beyond the Midwest. It will be available to 15.4 million DirecTV subscribers nationally with distribution gradually occurring. CSTV and Mountain West Sports Network also recognized a growing demand for college sports, but the Big East decided to go with familiarity. In the end, it was agreed that a new venture could never replace a long-standing relationship, and more importantly, name recognition.

"With us, the situation just added up. Network names are so magical to people. They know CBS. They know ESPN. People go with what they know," Odjakjian said. "They recognize what has been there all along. It may seem foreign at first with so many options to see our conference, but then it becomes normal."

What the Big East embodies is something the other majors do not. The conference transcends regions, from the northeast through the mid-Atlantic to the south and then out to the Midwest. Tranghese said there is enough interest in all these areas now that fans recognize the Big East beyond the conference’s original region. He does not pass it off as hubris. Tranghese states the concept as fact.

Beyond the fans and viewership, each school benefits monetarily from the deal with each receiving a lump sum from the Big East each year through its television revenue. In 2005, each basketball school received $10 million. While every school agrees to deals with area coverage, the network will still have a small stake in those games, especially with its ESPN Regional distribution. Agreements in other conferences fluctuate.

Much like the Big Ten, the Atlantic Coast Conference controls all rights and renegotiated its current television contract through 2010 with ESPN and ABC and regionally with Raycom/Jefferson Pilot. As for the Pac-10, the west-coast conference operates a bit differently.

Fox Sports Net owns all the television rights to Pac-10 games, and the two sides are in the second year of a deal which runs through 2012. As for non-conference games, each school is responsible for negotiating those contracts.

Each school’s athletic director, not the conference, constructs the deals. This has been the agreement since the conference’s inception. Before this year, eight of the 10 schools had deals. Washington State and Oregon have each signed with Fox Sports and ESPN Regional, respectively.

But not every game in the Pac-10 will be televised. Arizona is the only school that plays every game on television in men’s basketball.

Most Big East teams anticipate similar exposure beginning next season.

"In this day and age, this is a terrific undertaking with all the scheduling difficulties, all the public facilities, 16 teams. Tom has to deal with so many issues," Pac-10 associate commissioner Duane Lindberg said. "I know some of the details of their deal, but I won’t claim to be an expert. What I do know is that the Big East and ESPN will benefit mightily and sometimes, that’s really all you need to know."

With a small laugh, Odjakjian said he believes there is some jealousy from other conferences.

He laughed again and said the Big East was careful what it asked for, but added they’ve been in the business long enough to know what to do with what they receive.

Riding the cycle

Every technological advancement will be met with initial apprehension from the consumer, Tranghese said, but ESPN will continue to experiment, and the Big East will continue to be used as an example.

The deal was not closed in response to the Big Ten or any other conference’s deal. It was born out of expansion. Tranghese entertained all questions last season regarding whether the Big East jutting in so many new directions was a good thing for college basketball.

His response from a basketball point of view: Tranghese said look at the excitement generated from the first Big East tournament after expansion and the success of teams in the tournament, followed by this year’s recruiting classes. When asked if the slow start of some teams in the conference this year disputes his claim that expansion will only strengthen the Big East, he said wait until March.

The ultimate goal, he added, is to improve the conference from top to bottom.

From a business standpoint, it becomes clearer. Seven Big East teams are located in the top 12 media markets in the country, and 12 schools are in the top 34. That covers 25 percent of the country. Numbers can be interpreted so many different ways, Odjakjian said, and so many variables go into ratings – weather, matchups and other events going on that day. The bottom line, he added, is that fans and recruits will see the Big East somehow and someway.

"Television is such a big part of what we do – recruiting, exposure, stature. We deal with television issues every day and the primary concern is how do we get more games on television?" UConn’s Hathaway said. "Anytime you have the opportunity to do this with new technology and so many news ways to get out there, you have to take advantage of them. You work for the best deal possible. Everyone does."

As much as so many variables go into ratings, the same applies to games. There are upsets. There are surprises. There are some things with basketball that are uncontrollable, but televisions deals like this are calculated and done for a reason.

Those involved with the deal agree that this may not necessarily change college basketball but it may change the way people see the game.

Tranghese said he is not sure if college basketball would change with the deal. Others believe it will.

Most coaches buy into the concept that there is no recruiter like television. When the Big East first started, the television deal it worked out with the networks was the largest at the time. In turn, the conference enjoyed its most prolific period in the 1980s.

When Odjakjian was still employed at ESPN more than a decade ago, he ran into Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. It was in the early 1990s, when it seemed like the rest of college basketball caught up with the perceived power conference.

They discussed basketball. They discussed television. Boeheim concluded that while Syracuse and the conference still received a good amount of exposure, every other conference in the country seemed to have just as much. The coach told Odjakjian that if the Big East maintained the same level of exposure then it does not have the same advantage.

Odjakjian said he remembers the conversation like it happened yesterday.

It very well may have happened then and not more than a decade ago.

Editor’s note: This is the Part One of a two-part series. Part Two, which focuses on how Big East programs may benefit from the contract, will run in Monday’s editions.

Coming tomorrow, Part II: The Great Recruiter: How Big East programs may benefit from the contract

Last edited by panthersc97 on Mon Dec 11, 2006 9:10 am, edited 1 time in total.

PostPosted: Mon Dec 11, 2006 9:06 am 

Joined: Mon Feb 23, 2004 10:22 am
Posts: 1030

The tapes are stacked next to his television in Lancashire, England, filled with games of Duke, North Carolina and the University of Connecticut. For some odd reason, Ben Eaves recalled, at least one of those three teams always seemed to play every night on the North American Sports Network, a cable outlet which airs sports that do not fit the traditional label in England.

Eaves, a UConn freshman forward, would watch the tapes over again, emulating style and play, infatuated with American men’s college basketball. While NASN airs ESPN content overseas that typically receives high ratings in the United States, Eaves’ growing curiosity peaked. His ambition became UConn. A few years later, he arrived in Storrs.

Now take that concept (a steady diet of one or a group of teams) and multiply it by 16 programs, spread it across the United States via the most established cable sports network, and plant the idea of playing somewhere in the Big East Conference in the head of a 15-year-old high school sophomore. Ask last year’s Wisconsin player of the year Jerry Smith where he first watched Louisville. Or ask Anthony Mason Jr., a sophomore forward from Memphis, when and how he was first introduced to a school in Queens like St. John’s.

"Their games were on all the time. I know those teams didn’t play every night, but it seemed as though they did. It didn’t take me long to figure out why they were on all the time, but you keep on seeing it and seeing it until finally it becomes part of your life," Eaves said. "I wanted that. If I didn’t see UConn on television, I obviously wouldn’t be here."

Most college basketball players agree nothing compares to a visit from a coach to their home or prep or high school gym during the recruiting courtship. Like business, face time remains so crucial. But even with the advent of the Internet and all its possibilities for exposure, a coach can assure a recruit’s family one thing that is not playing time or an NBA guarantee.

Now, after the Big East and ESPN agreed to a six-year deal that will air every conference basketball game, coaches will use the contract as one of the most effective recruiting tools. This is a reciprocal agreement, but not in a conference-network sense. Watch us tonight on ESPN and tell us what you think about our program. Then, sign with our school and your family and friends can watch every college game you play.

Use it

About a month after the two sides announced their agreement that will make the basketball conference the most widely distributed in the country next season, Dan Gavitt, a Big East associate commissioner, held a symposium in Philadelphia to discuss matters with every assistant coach from Marquette to Rutgers to West Virginia.

One of the key topics was the television deal that begins in late 2007. Gavitt explained how the contract works. In return, he was asked questions, but the answer always revolved around recruiting.

The simple response stemmed from the concept current Big East Commissioner Michael Tranghese is trying to push. The conference would like to strengthen its success and appeal from top to bottom. Every time traditional conference power Syracuse plays, the Orange are helping Seton Hall and DePaul, even if they aren’t playing those teams.

On any night during the winter months, depending on the cable package, a viewer will be able to watch the Big East in some capacity. With 16 teams scattered across four regions and two time zones, the conference has the potential to reach 30 percent of the country’s households, in addition to regions like the Pacific Northwest and the Southwest. Depending on the quality of the game, an entire country sometimes will have the opportunity to watch multiple Big East games.

Also, if market saturation is figured into the strategy (see chart), the Big East does not only cover regions but overall population. There is a direct correlation between deep recruiting pockets and ESPN exposure. The overall message Gavitt was trying to convey was use this deal to your advantage.

"Really, when you ask coaches about media markets, they understand the basics, and that’s all they really need to know. Some really grasp the concept, and that’s what we want them to do," Tranghese said. "Coaches don’t care about ratings. They care about recruiting."

When the Big East and ESPN began developing their partnership in the early 1980s, the same idea applied, except it was on a much smaller scale with nine teams by 1982. When the conference expanded to 16 teams last season, it created confusion from alignment to scheduling logistics. The new Big East failed to make sense from an outsider’s point of view, but in terms of opportunity, from business to basketball, the conference and some coaches felt growth was necessary.

Still, when Tranghese took the podium at the Theater at Madison Square Garden during Big East media day in October, he spoke of potential and expansion and how important this television contract was to secure the conference’s longevity. The room remained silent, as if asking Tranghese for proof.

The deal is for six years starting next season. He said it will take some time. The preparation, though, began months ago.

The contract has been embraced by the smaller programs. First-year Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez took the Pirates job late in the spring recruiting period. He solidified commitments from some local talent from the Greater New York metropolitan area, but nothing away from the New Jersey campus.

In terms of diversified rosters (see chart), Seton Hall has the fewest states represented (four) while Louisville has the most (11). While Gonzalez and Fred Hill, Rutgers’ first-year coach, both agree it is necessary to keep top in-state recruits, they still have the option to look elsewhere. It has always been there, Gonzalez said, but now it may be so much easier to do.

And by that, like most coaches, he said that this could potentially change college basketball by luring more of the most talented players in the country back to the Big East.

"You don’t think we can get into some areas the Big East has never been in before? Some kid out there is going to see us, and if not us, the Big East, and they’re going to get curious. I think that can change a lot of things," Gonzalez said. "I disagreeistants and I have talked about this a lot, and after I came back from the Big East coaches’ meeting, the only thing I knew was that this can help."

Building programs

At the time, UConn coach Jim Calhoun’s idea was viewed as a novelty. Now, it’s almost the standard. All teams have more than one player on current rosters that grew up out of the program’s region, while 13 of the 16 schools are represented by at least seven states (see chart).

In the original Big East, St. John’s owned New York City recruiting while Villanova took care of Philadelphia and New Jersey. Georgetown cornered the Washington, D.C., market, Syracuse had its pick of anywhere in the northeast, and there was UConn, squeezed in between so many schools and cities in an otherwise rural location.

The Huskies were able to lure in-state recruits like Chris Smith and Scott Burrell, but some other options were limited. Calhoun searched for another direction.

"It was saturated after saturated area every year," Calhoun said. "So we thought, let’s go to Arizona and go get Brian Fair. Let’s go to Utah. Let’s just go. Why not?"

Fair, the then-Arizona player of the year, decided to go to UConn and enjoyed a quality college career. When he arrived for the 1991-92 season, the Huskies played six games on ESPN that year, around the average at that time since the school first appeared on the network in 1986-87. More out-of-region recruits started coming in, including Doron Sheffer and Nadav Henefeld from overseas (Israel), and by 1995-96, the Huskies played 10 times on ESPN while CBS aired six games.

By the time UConn won its first national championship in 1999, the Huskies’ television exposure reached an all-time high. The next season, they played 14 ESPN games and seven times on CBS or ABC. Three-fifths of the program’s games reached a national audience.

When the Big East and ESPN formed their partnership, UConn was in the second tier on the network’s priority list behind the other major schools in the conference. That has now changed.

"Even when we received minimum exposure, it only enhanced our program. Everything coinciding, the exposure, us reaching a certain level, was not by design, but it helped so much," Calhoun said. "No doubt in my mind that if it wasn’t for the rest of the country seeing us so much, we wouldn’t be able to recruit like we recruit."

Even though the ESPN programming for next season will not be decided for some time, a national audience will see some of the current bigger names more often than the new Big East teams. The network still has the opportunity to cut in and air parts of other games which were originally scheduled to air regionally.

If, by chance, two teams playing their last regular-season game are vying for a spot in the conference tournament in New York City, the nationally televised game will be left to cut in to the game with more implications but with less-recognized programs.

And in the process, Tranghese believes a high school recruit out there will take notice of a euphoric scene unfolding in a once dark corner of the Big East.

It happened to former UConn forward Donny Marshall, who played the same four years as Fair. Marshall grew up in Federal Way, Wash., and first saw the Huskies on ESPN, attracting him to the school.

It may have been a shameless plug while he provided the color commentary for the UConn-Albany game in November, but he told the story to viewers of the game aired on ESPN Regional.

Chance for parity?

With last season’s expansion, the Big East placed eight teams in the NCAA tournament, a high for the field of 65. Its conference tournament allowed Syracuse to slip in during a mediocre season, but the automatic bid pushed the Orange through, plus their unexpected rise improved ratings.

This is what Tranghese was referring to when 16 teams began conference play. Even though not all teams will make the trip to Madison Square Garden, the conference tournament’s longtime home, there is an opportunity for all to qualify. This aspect of the postseason still does not sit well with some conference traditionalists, but for now, it remains.

Still, the top of the Big East standings continues to have a familiar look. It has been almost 14 years since a school like Seton Hall won the Big East regular-season title. But even with the fifth largest men’s basketball budget in the conference (see chart), Gonzalez sees opportunities.

This is why.

The general consensus among Big East coaches at media day was that only two teams are strong enough on paper to win the regular-season title. From three to 10, the rest of the conference was a toss up in terms of predicted order of finish.

Georgetown’s John Thompson III said it has been some time since the conference was this balanced with talent. Jim Boeheim of Syracuse said not much separates those teams, perhaps luck.

And perhaps, he added, one more key player that no one else has on their roster. That may change in the next few years. This is Tranghese’s hope.

"It comes down to one more good player every year. If you had this kid or if you had that kid. I haven’t really looked at the contract that much, but I know what I see on the surface," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "The top five teams in the conference are always able to get that kid. Now the others have a chance with this contract. Is it going to change how the traditional top five programs fare in the conference? Maybe. But not as much as five through 16."

Dixon is like most coaches who Tranghese said just look at the television contract for what they need to know.

And that may be enough to convince one more recruit to sign with their school.

Editor’s note: This is the final of a two-part series detailing the partnership between ESPN and Big East men’s basketball

Brett Orzechowski can be reached at

Last edited by panthersc97 on Mon Dec 11, 2006 9:07 am, edited 1 time in total.

PostPosted: Mon Dec 11, 2006 1:54 pm 

Joined: Tue Jun 13, 2006 2:37 pm
Posts: 9045
PantherSC97,not impressed with whomever proofread these articles.If I am reading this accurately,the most glaring mistake is the contention that in 2005 every BE BB school made $10 Million from tv deal.LOL.

Last edited by freaked4collegefb on Mon Dec 11, 2006 1:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.

PostPosted: Mon Dec 11, 2006 2:38 pm 

Joined: Mon Feb 23, 2004 10:22 am
Posts: 1030

PantherSC97,not impressed with whomever proofread these articles.If I am reading this accurately,the most glaring mistake is the contention that in 2005 every BE BB school made $10 Million from tv deal.LOL.

No kidding. I saw that too. That would have meant the previous TV contract was worth $140 million dollars!!! :o ;D

Last edited by panthersc97 on Mon Dec 11, 2006 2:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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