How much have we gotten used to having big events on cable over the past four years? When ESPN and the BCS announced, as expected, that the new college football playoff, including the championship game and non-“contract bowls”, would be going to ESPN, there was nary a peep about the fact that the new championship game would remain on cable for the life of the contract. No one, aside from Sports Media Watch, found it in any way noteworthy that college football will crown its champion on cable for a total of a decade and a half.
They should; ESPN’s Monday Night Football contract currently only ends in 2021 (though it’s likely to be extended to 2022), meaning by the time the contract for the new playoff ends, it could well be the only thing propping up ESPN’s hegemony, for a full four years. If cable has moved to an a la carte system by 2022, or if Internet streaming is making an undeniable impact on the viability of cable television, ESPN may find itself forced to move the championship game to ABC… or it could use its monopoly on the college football playoff to inflate its viewership numbers beyond what they actually should be and thus keep rights above the station those developments should by all rights place them.
Fox’s rumored victory in the race for Dodgers rights and announced acquisition of almost half of the YES network shores up the health of its regional sports network operation and technically puts Fox right back into competition with Comcast in a market. While it’ll now be a long time, if ever, before Fox is forced to leave the Los Angeles market or even shut down one of its two regional sports networks there, it doesn’t really change the calculus for the state of national FSN programming or the national FSN brand; I would bet MSG Plus was one of FSN’s more loyal non-in-house affiliates. (On the Yankees’ end, while it does hedge their risk for a potential collapse in the RSN market, it doesn’t leave them as well prepared if a streaming-heavy future replaces it.)
However, it’s clear that Fox is serious about launching an ESPN competitor, even placing it in the same tradition as the launch of the Fox network itself or the launch of Fox News as a competitor to CNN. I don’t see the point of their proposal of running ads in split-screen even when nothing is happening during the break; while it should work for NASCAR and could work for soccer and even UFC, it seems supremely pointless for other sports, and I could see advertisers balk at applying it across the board.