Raycom, ESPN U, and ESPN: what's the story?
In the comments section on my prior post LA Eagle voiced a gripe that many BC fans have had this year: "what's with all the Raycom and ESPN U games this year?"
It is really not BC's fault. It is more a product of how things work.
Who holds the rights?
As part of the ACC's deal with ESPN, ABC/ESPN get the first two selections of any ACC home games. One is for ESPN. One is for the 3:30 regional game on ABC. Raycom gets the third choice. After they select, the rights revert back to ESPN. They can put it on ESPN U, Classic, 360, whatever. Road games are subject to the home team's TV deal. For example, all Notre Dame home games are on NBC. The SEC has a deal similar to the ACC where CBS, ESPN and Raycom are all involved. The MAC has a deal with ESPN, so the Kent State game was their property.
How are games selected?
Outside of the first two weeks of the season and non-Saturday matchups, most games are selected two weeks prior to kickoff. Even with that window, there is a tentative schedule produced in advance with built in contigencies ("if X beats Y, then the X-Z game will be on ESPN at noon"). These schedules are built around ratings, not records or rankings. However, records and rankings influence ratings. For example, BC and Clemson both bring certain fans to the table regardless of record. That baseline assures some TV coverage. If both teams are playing well you can draw in casual college football fans. If one team is in the dumps it drags ratings.
What happened this year?
BC's relegation to the mid and lower levels of the ACC TV package is more a product of perception, Raycom's love of BC, and the condition of the conference. Look at the case by case example:
- Kent State -- ESPN U: When BC agreed to play Kent State, the game was probably going to be the Thursday before Labor Day at Kent State on ESPN 2. Then the Browns/Cleveland got involved and wanted the game played in Cleveland on Saturday night. ESPN/ESPN 2 had better options so we were moved to ESPN U. If not for BC's involvement, this game is not even carried on TV.
- Georgia Tech -- Raycom. Decided before the season. Both teams were likely to be unranked so ESPN passed. Raycom jumped at the chance to have BC back on their schedule after two seasons without Eagles football.
- Central Florida -- ESPN U. Decided after the Georgia Tech loss. This is where momentum and perception come into play. If BC beats Georgia Tech and enters the polls earlier in the season, this game might have been on ESPN or ESPN 2.
- Rhode Island -- ESPN 360. This is the one game where the ESPN deal hurts fans. If ESPN doesn't hold on to the rights, NESN or another New England broadcaster could have picked this up. It occasionally happened when we played the "good for New England" game as members of the Big East.
- NC State -- Raycom. This is where the Raycom love and the underperforming opponent come into play. If NC State had a better record ESPN would have grabbed this for the "TOB vs. BC" angle. Raycom gladly took it and the game performed well for them.
- Virginia Tech -- ESPN 2. When we are good and facing a good team we get primetime spots on national networks.
- North Carolina -- Raycom. This is where the two weeks scheduling hurts. I bet that ESPN/ABC selected the Virginia Tech-Florida State game assuming the Hokies would beat us. And even with our win, it could be argued that VT-FSU is a matchup with broader appeal. Raycom is happy...they get BC again.
- Clemson -- ESPN U. Clemson is in a nose dive now. If they were ranked this game would be on one of the bigger networks.
As for the rest of the schedule. Notre Dame and Florida State will get good coverage. Maryland and Wake depend on how we play. If we remain ranked and at the top of the division those games will be on ESPN/ABC.
When you step back, the whole system seems overly complicated. But diehards should be happy. We are in an age where every game is accessible from anywhere in the country. That is an improvement over just five years ago when I'd often be stuck listening to the radio stream online and periodically getting dropped or buffered during the broadcast.
The key for all BC fans is to get ESPN U. ESPN just signed the SEC to a deal that froze out Raycom. I predict they will do the same with the ACC. Once that happens everything will stay within the ESPN family.