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Behind the Broadcast: ESPN appears to be cornering the market

Saturday, November 22, 2008
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ESPN announced this week that it has acquired the rights to Hanna-Barbera’s Laff-A-Lympics. It’s a multiyear deal, but financial terms weren’t disclosed.

It outbid Cartoon Network, which had been the rights holder for several years, to show the athletic compet­ition between the Scooby Doobies, the Yogi Yahooeys and the Really Rottens.

“We enjoyed our time on Cartoon Network,” said Scooby Doobies general manager Scooby Doo in a statement. “But ESPN offered me too many Scooby Snacks to turn down this deal.”

Added Yogi Bear, GM of the Yogi Yahooeys, “Cartoon Network couldn’t match the picnic baskets of money ESPN just gave me!”

Dick Dastardly, president of Cartoon Network, was unavailable for comment, though he was heard in his office saying, “Drat, drat and double drat!”

———

OK, the preceding fake press release is a bit outrageous. But it does make a point.

ESPN wants to be more than just its slogan, “The Worldwide Leader In Sports.” It wants to be “The Only Place You Will Be Able To Watch Sports.”

Over the last two weeks, ESPN has acquired the rights to two prestigious sporting events: the British Open and the Bowl Championship Series. Neither of these two events will be shown on free TV for a while.

ESPN has an eight-year agreement to show all four rounds of the British Open, wrestling away the cable rights from TNT. ABC, which had televised the final two rounds for over four decades, will just show a highlights package on the weekends. The deal starts in 2010.

“One of the most venerable of all sporting events has embraced the 21st century worldwide media landscape, and we’re thrilled to showcase The Open Champ­ionship like never before,” ESPN president George Bodenheimer said. “The scope of this deal and the enhancements we obtained offer us tremendous opportunities to serve the R&A [organizers of the British Open] and golf fans around the world through any device.”

This week, ESPN acquired the rights to the BCS starting in 2011. It beat out Fox Sports, the current home of the BCS. ESPN’s deal runs though 2014.

“The BCS will thrive on ESPN,” Bodenheimer said. “Our slogan is, ‘College Football Lives Here,’ and the BCS will now top college football’s best regular-season and studio coverage, the sport’s top awards shows, ‘Bowl Week’ and other national championships all carried on our family of networks. This is a proud day for ESPN, and an exceptional day for this great sport and its passionate fans.”

Neither Turner Sports nor Fox were pleased with the developments. Turner was at least grac­ious.

“We are disciplined in our approach to negotiating programming rights,” Turner Sports president David Levy said in a statement. “While we were unable to reach terms on future rights that made economic sense for our company, we respect and value the R&A and our partnership of the past six years, and look forward to TNT’s final year of covering The Open.”

Fox was, shall we say, upset.

“Fox Sports has elected not to match an offer the BCS Group has received from ESPN to televise BCS games from 2011-2014, and plans to notify the organization by phone [Monday],” the statement read. “Even with today’s vast economic uncertainties, Fox Sports made a very competitive bid to keep broadcasting BCS games free to every home in America, one that included a substantial rights fee increase, and certainly as much as any over-the-air network could responsibly risk. Unfortunately, the university presidents and BCS commissioners were not satisfied, and they’ve decided to take their jewel events to pay television. We wish everyone well.”

The big question, to me, is whether ESPN can make money from these deals. It seems like it is banking on a better economic sit­uation when it starts to televise these events. But it’s a big risk.

Over the last few years, ESPN has acquired the cable rights to pro tennis’ grand slam, taken over “Monday Night Football” from ABC, turned ABC Sports into ESPN on ABC. How soon before ESPN moves the NBA Finals and NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup off ABC? And will ESPN end ABC’s regular-season college football coverage?

Somewhere, Roone Arledge, who built ABC Sports, and “ABC’s Wide World of Sports” host Jim McKay are spinning in their graves.

FOOTBALL SCHEDULES

Here are the college football and NFL games that will be televised over the next week. Announcers (where available), in order of play-by-play, analyst and sideline reporter, are in par­entheses.

NFL

Sunday

Fox (WXXA Ch. 23 and WXXA HD) — Philadelphia at Baltimore, 1 p.m. (Sam Rosen/Tim Ryan/Chris Myers); N.Y. Giants at Ar­izona, 4:15 p.m. (Kenny Albert/Daryl Johnston/Tony Siragusa).

CBS (WRGB Ch. 6 and WRGB HD) — N.Y. Jets at Tennessee, 1 p.m. (Jim Nantz/Phil Simms).

NBC (WNYT Ch. 13 and WNYT HD) —

Indianapolis at San Diego, 8:15 p.m. (Al

Michaels/John Madden/Andrea Kramer).

Monday

ESPN and ESPN HD — Green Bay at New Orleans, 8:30 p.m. (Mike Tirico/Ron Jaworski and Tony Kornheiser).

Thursday

CBS — Tennessee at Detroit, 12:30 p.m. (Nantz/Simms).

Fox — Seattle at Dallas, 4:15 p.m. (Joe Buck/Troy Aikman/Pam Oliver).

NFL Network and NFLN HD — Arizona at Philadelphia, 8:15 p.m. (Bob Papa/Cris Collinsworth).

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Today

ABC (WTEN Ch. 10 and WTEN HD) — Michigan at Ohio State, (Brad Nessler/Bob Griese and Paul Maguire/Stacey Dales); Boston College at Wake Forest, 3:30 p.m. (Terry Gannon/David Norrie); Texas Tech at Oklahoma, 8 p.m. (Brent Musburger/Kirk Herbstreit/Lisa Salters).

Time Warner Cable (Ch. 3) and SNY HD — Army at Rutgers, noon (Mike Gleason/John Congemi/Quint Kessenich).

ESPN and ESPN HD — West Virginia at Louisville, noon (Dave Pasch/Andre Ware); Michigan State at Penn State, 3:30 p.m. (Mike Patrick/Todd Blackledge/Holly Rowe); Florida State at Maryland, 7:45 p.m. (Ron Franklin/Ed Cunningham/Jack Arute).

ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD — Indiana at Purdue, noon (Pam Ward/Ray Bentley); Boise State at Nevada, 4 p.m. (Mark Johnson/Tom Scott/David August); Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, 7:15 p.m. (Mark Jones/Bob Davie).

Versus — Yale at Harvard, noon (Rich Ackerman/Dale Hallestrae/Bob Harwood); Air Force at Texas Christian, 3:30 p.m. (Joe Beninati/Glenn Parker/Tim Neverett); Oregon State at Arizona, 7 p.m. (Ron Thulin/Kelly Stouffer/Lewis Johnson).

MY4 and MY4 HD (WNYA) — Tennessee at Vanderbilt, 12:30 p.m. (Dave Neal/Dave Archer/Dave Baker).

ESPNU and ESPNU HD — Jackson State at Alcorn State, 2 p.m. (Dwayne Ballen/Eddie Robinson Jr.); Duke at Virginia Tech, 5:30 p.m. (Dave Armstrong/Larry Coker).

ESPN Classic — Florida Classic: Bethune-Cookman vs. Florida A&M, 2 p.m. (Eric Collins/Shaun King).

Fox College Sports Atlantic — Youngstown State at Western Illinois, 2 p.m.; McNeese State at Central Arkansas (joined in progress), 5:30 p.m.

NBC — Syracuse at Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m. (Tom Hammond/Pat Haden/Alex Flanigan).

YES — Hofstra at Massachusetts, 2:30 p.m. (Jeff Rickard/Bob Norton/John Carchedi).

MSG Plus — Washington at Washington State, 3 p.m. (Barry Tompkins/Petros Papa­dakis/Jim Watson).

CBS — Mississippi at LSU, 3:30 p.m. (Verne Lundquist/Gary Danielson/Tracy Wolfson).

CBS College Sports — Marshall at Rice, 3:30 p.m. (Tom Hart/Trev Alberts); UNLV at San Diego State, 8 p.m. (Carter Blackburn/Aaron Taylor).

Fox College Sports Central — Iowa State at Kansas State, 3:30 p.m. (Kevin Eschenfelder/Richard Baldinger).

Sunday

ESPN and ESPN HD — Connecticut at South Florida, 8:15 p.m. (Joe Tessitore/Rod Gilmore).

Tuesday

ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD — Navy at Northern Illinois, 7 p.m. (Todd Harris/Ray Bentley).

Thursday

ESPN and ESPN HD — Texas A&M at Texas, 8 p.m. (Chris Fowler/Craig James and Jesse Palmer/Erin Andrews).

Friday

ABC — West Virginia at Pittsburgh, noon (Dave Lamont/Brock Huard); Colorado at Nebraska, 3:30 p.m. (Franklin/Cunningham/Arute).

MY4 and MY4 HD — Mississippi State at Mississippi, 12:30 p.m. (Neal/Archer/Baker).

ESPNU and ESPNU HD — Ohio at Miami (Ohio), 12:30 p.m. (Dave Ryan/Jay Taylor).

CBS College Sports — Texas-El Paso at East Carolina, 1 p.m.

CBS — LSU vs. Arkansas, 2:30 p.m. (Don Criqui/Dan Fouts).

ESPN Classic — Bowling Green at Toledo, 3:30 p.m. (Todd Harris/Shaun King).

ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD — Fresno State at Boise State, 6 p.m. (Tessitore/Gilmore); UCLA at Arizona, 9:30 p.m. (Sean McDonough/Chris Spielman).

 
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