When the Colonial Athletic Association became the first NCAA Division I conference to sign a primary rights deal with an exclusively-digital outlet earlier this month, a big part of their deal with FloSports was the “low seven figures” rights fee. It was the first time the CAA had ever received a rights fee for their content. But it turns out that the rights fee (since reported as $4.5 million over four years) isn’t actually going to be distributed to the schools, but rather used to pay for broadcasting games on CBS Sports Network.
Here’s more on that from Andrew Miller of the (Charleston, SC) Post and Courier:
The conference will also use the revenue from FloSports to buy more games on CBS Sports Network. Instead of each school receiving between $50,000 and $75,000 a year, the conference decided to invest that money to broadcast men’s basketball games on a national level with CBS Sports Network. The CAA will have eight nationally televised games on CBS Sports Network during the 2019-2020 season.
“We made the strategic decision that we wanted to enhance the CAA’s basketball brand,” said College of Charleston athletic director Matt Roberts. “So instead of each institution taking a small part of that money, we made the intentional effort to reinvest that money into other broadcast opportunities.”
The number of games on CBS Sports Network could increase to as many as 16 CAA games per season over the next few years.
“Before this deal, we had no nationally-televised home CAA games,” Roberts said. “The only national games we had were the semifinals and finals from the tournament.”
So, the idea here is taking this streaming rights fee and reinvesting it into further linear television exposure, and there’s maybe some logic to that. Locally-televised games (the CAA will still have some of those, as their FloSports deal provides flexibility for schools to strike local deals as well) are valuable, but national television exposure can also matter, both for recruiting new athletes and for getting your school on the radar of other prospective students. However, there’s a question of just how valuable CBSSN exposure is; the network isn’t rated by Nielsen, so we don’t know how many people subscribe to it and how many people watch it.
Paying in some fashion to have your games broadcast (whether that’s buying time outright, paying production costs, or a combination of the two) isn’t that unusual, especially for smaller leagues. And there’s certainly some value to the exposure gained as a result. And in the CAA’s case, perhaps this is also a bet on the future; the FloSports deal they’ve signed is only for four years, so maybe they think that using the revenues there to boost their TV exposure now could make their overall rights more valuable the next time they come up. (And TV exposure could also help in recruiting, making their teams better and maybe leading to longer NCAA Tournament runs, which in turn would produce both immediate revenue and benefits in the next rights negotiations.) But it’s unclear just how much their brand is enhanced by 8-16 games annually on CBSSN.