Several months ago there was a race to sign what was left of the Big East, now known as the American Athletic Conference. Just when it looked like NBC Sports would expand their footprint in college athletics, ESPN stepped in to match the low, low discount price of $20 million dollars per year to keep the table scraps of realignment such as UCF, USF, Houston and others.
ESPN paid that price knowing full well it was pocket change for them and they could sublicense those rights to another competitor that was not NBC Sports Network.
Now we know that partner for AAC games is CBS Sports Network, which now has a flagship conference for their college athletics coverage.
CBSSN will air both football and basketball games, which include powerhouses like UConn women's basketball and defending champions Louisville this year before they move to the ACC with 5 appearances each. More from the CBS announcement:
CBS Sports Network has acquired the rights to telecast college football and basketball games from the American Athletic Conference through a sub-licensing agreement with ESPN. The multi-year agreement begins with the 2013-14 college basketball season and continues through 2019-20.
The deal provides for 30 men’s basketball games per year, except for the first year, which calls for 25 games. CBS Sports Network also will telecast a minimum of 13, and maximum of 15 football games beginning with the 2014 season.
“We are pleased and excited about this ESPN-CBS agreement, which provides our member institutions unprecedented national exposure on the industry leaders in college sports,” said American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco. “CBS Sports Network is another outstanding national platform for our schools, and we thank ESPN for its role in making this agreement possible. We look forward to giving our fans the best seat in the house as we compete on the biggest stage in college sports in this, our inaugural season as the American, and for many years to come.”
“This deal adds high quality college football and basketball games to CBS Sports Network's already extensive line-up of live event programming,” said David Berson, President, CBS Sports. “We're proud to extend our relationship with the American Athletic Conference and look forward to showcasing exciting action on CBS Sports and CBS Sports Network beginning this season.”
Over the last couple weeks we've discussed whether or not CBS is serious about building CBSSN into a true national cable sports competitor alongside NBCSN and Fox Sports 1. Currently CBSSN is in a distant 4th place and isn't even rated by Nielsen. CBS Sports President David Berson told AA last week that the cable outlet would look to grow "methodically and strategically" and this would appear to be an example of that mindset.
ESPN simply doesn't have the real estate, nor the desire to air Houston vs Temple football. CBS Sports Network does. It's a deal that makes sense for both parties. ESPN gets to move the chess pieces the way they want and CBS receives more live sports inventory.
The 'Merican isn't going to move the needle in any dramatic way, but it's certainly a step up from CBSSN's current portfolio. The AAC obviously comes at a discount price and if it can increase awareness, distribution, or ratings for CBSSN in any way then it'll be a step forward for the cable network.