When ESPN announced Times Square in New York City as last weekend’s stop for College GameDay, people wondered why the iconic pregame show would go there rather than a traditional college football destination. Well, perhaps there was a method to the madness. With a crowd of over 1,000 converging on Times Square, ESPN was saying that New York City is an underrated college football hotbed.
The timing of the stop was interesting. ESPN’s corporate parent, Disney, is locked in negotiations with Altice, which owns New York cable provider Optimum. As the days and hours approach a September 30 deadline to keep Disney’s networks (i.e., ESPN, ESPN2 and others) on Optimum, there are a couple of networks that are under dispute. Optimum doesn’t carry SEC Network and isn’t enthusiastic about ACC Network, which launches in 2019.
Bloomberg says Optimum doesn’t want to pony up for both channels, citing that neither conference has a team based in the tri-state area (although Syracuse does have a fanbase in New York, but not one that the cable provider feels it can justify in paying Disney’s asking price).
In addition to pushing ACC and SEC Networks, Disney wants Altice to put ESPN in more homes. In essence, Altice would have to put ESPN on more packages and tiers to help offset subscriber losses. And Disney is also seeking a higher subscriber fee for ABC.
This is one of the first renewal negotiations for Disney since serious cord cutting began. This could be a sign on whether Disney can push the cable and satellite providers to pay for programming that may not be of interest to all of its subscribers.
ESPN denies any connection to the Altice talks, but it can point to the enthusiasm and energy from the Times Square crowd as proof that NYC can support college sports. And while the market is considered more a pro sports town than college, Disney is hoping that College GameDay’s Times Square visit will send a message to Altice that people will want SEC Network and the ACC Network when it eventually launches.