Sports Biz with Darren Rovell

Big Ten Network: Will Anyone Watch? Does Anybody Care?

The Big Ten Networkannounced yesterdayit would launch on August 30and people are already asking this question. If a game is broadcast and no one can see it, did it happen?

You see, the network is asking that people in the eight Big Ten states pay 10 cents a month to get the network, while those outside of those states pay $1.10 per month. And it's not a pay-per-view deal. It's a pay-even-if-you-don't-watch-us-deal. And even if you're a Big Ten fan, this is hardly "must watch." It's a bunch of non-conference doozies in football and a whole bunch of games in other sports you'd never consider watching. (Correction from earlier post: Big Ten states pay $1.10 per month, others pay 10 cents.)

Like we expected, and who'd be stupid enough to expect that this wouldn't happen, many cable carriers are protesting the move, believing that BTN should go on a sports tier that won't be passed on to all their customers. (They announced they inked 75 carriers, but that number isn't as high as it sounds.)

We've seen this plenty of times over the past couple years. Cablevision  fought the YES Network and Comcast, which is now refusing to give in to the Big Ten Network, held off the NFL Network.

I'm pretty sure the people who started up the Big Ten Network didn't look around before they started this thing. Because if they did they would have followed what the Mets did with SportsNet New York. They got cable carriage deals from the start because they gave all the big carriers a cut of the action. The Big Ten Network is merely a 51-49 percentage split with Fox.

Here's the other precedent that's scary. If you don't sell it to the carriers when you have your best product on the air (in this case, football) you're likely going to have a hard time selling it any other time of year. When those carriers who protested the NFL Networkdidn't put the network on after all the network's games were done and the fan pressure relented, they certainly weren't going to sign a deal with the league in the off season. That means the Big Ten Network has until December to sell. After that, it's over and who knows if they're going to be able to financially keep up the network until the following football season?

The Big Ten channel is a niche channel. If they don't think they are now, trust me, they will by the start of the season.

Questions?  Comments?