this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
big ten network
Best Ever. If you happen to know any Buckeyes well enough to be in the awkward position of exchanging gifts at holidays, I cannot recommend anything more strongly than this shirt:
There is also a Michigan State version. Tellingly, Michigan is omitted. Take that, Harbaugh!
Open house. The Big Ten Network's embarked on a barnstorming tour of the midwest; yesterday they stopped in at Michigan. There is an unrevealing story from the Free Press; more interesting is a Daily article from a few days ago with some increased detail on the negotiations:
In the next few weeks, Silverman thinks the network will sign with several cable and satellite distributors - Time Warner, Dish Network and Charter - but he won't count on Comcast.
"I need to consider Comcast as hoping, not expecting," Silverman said. "I will know more in the next couple of weeks about Comcast. That will be one that will go very close to the launching."
That's the first indication negotiations with any one provider are more strained than others and probably a good sign. If Time Warner, Dish, and Charter agree to carry it on basic, a price will be established and Comcast's holdout will seem untenable.
The Hoover Street Rag went on a field trip and reported back. The network remains uncompromising on expanded basic:
There are LOTS of negotiations currently going on, and again, deals on this kind of thing get done very late. Or as Mr. Silverman put it "very, very, very, very late." Mr. Silverman also noted that if he has his way, he would prefer not to be negotiating, but that is not the case. It is the position of the network that it should be broadly distributed on extended basic. Not on a sports tier, not on digital. It should be part of your 70 basic channels you get with your monthly cable bill. He went on to note that the Network is willing to negotiate on every single other point but they will not move on the extended basic part.
Also, HSR didn't get a parking ticket. Nice.
Oh, yeah, that guy. After a brief, intense burst of Beilein mania things here have settled back down into the status quo of mostly ignoring the thing that causes us pain. Beilein's recruiting hasn't been particularly newsworthy after the commitment of Syracuse center Ben Cronin -- he's focusing mostly on under-the-radar types, which distresses some -- but Nathan Fenno sheds some light on how things are going in an interview with our new savior:
Q: Would you like to add another player to the 2008 class?
Beilein: We would like to take an 08. And if we find two kids we like in 08, we'll take them. We're going to plan on seeing who we recruit first. If we don't get what we think is the right fit, then we'll move onto 09.
But we have some guys we think maybe the right fit. We might get three weeks into practice and say, 'Anthony Wright is this guy. Let's wait until 09.' We're gathering information.
Q: What sort of reponse have you recieved from recruits and their coaches?
Beilein: Two things I'm very happy with. No. 1, I think a lot of the young men have an appreciation for Michigan and the Big Ten, the University of Michigan, they know that name. The other thing is how many people have enjoyed watching West Virginia play the last three or four years.
We have an awful lot of high school coaches who have followed us. It's easier to get a recommendation from them to their player. Even though they may not know a lot about Michigan, they have seen West Virginia on television a great deal in the last couple years. There's a connection there I didn't didn't expect and I'm happy.
I expect another recruit no one is salivating over with to round out '08, then hope for some higher profile types once Beilein starts turning Michigan into a non-laughingstock.
Yorgen borgen flurgen forward. The Ann Arbor News profiles incoming Swede Carl Hagelin, a 6th round pick of the Rangers:
Hagelin captained Sodertalje SK in the J20 SuperElit Sodra, leading the league with 24 goals and 31 assists in 40 games. He sees himself as an offensive energy player who shouldn't take long to adjust from the 100-foot-wide Olympic-size ice sheets in Sweden to the 85-foot-wide rinks used mostly in North America.
"The rink is so much smaller, so it will be a different kind of game for me," Hagelin said. "Much faster, more physical game. I'm pretty fast and I think I can use my speed a lot."
There is also a profile on Shawn Hunwick, the new Mike O'Malley.
Etc.: We already knew this, but Bass is out this year. The article doesn't state it, but his return is highly improbable. Mallett will be "difficult to beat out" as the #2 QB; no redshirt coming. Maize 'n' Brew previews Notre Dame. Pickin' On The Big Ten ramps up a season preview.
Hi. This is weird for me, as it is for you, I'm sure, but Bill Connors, who you may remember from such quotes as...
"It's a single-digit percentage who view [the BTN] as an absolute must-have. That's why the best landing place is on a sports tier."
"In our mind, all we care about is getting content that customers want, at the right price. They cannot say that 100 percent of customers want to be forced to watch the Big Ten Network."
...or someone at Comcast saw the Silverman interview and wanted to give their side of the story. So there was a second unexpected conversation with an oft-agitated executive during which I typed frantically.
A clarification is in order here: I don't know if you would really call this "journalism." These interviews didn't seem like standard ask-response-ask thing where the most cutting thing you can do is get in a really pertinent followup. They were conversations. Dialogues, if you will. And the resulting piece here is fair (I hope) but not neutral. I have opinions on these things and would like to offer them to you. As for sides... there are three sides in this conflict: The Big Ten, Comcast, and us. I'm with us. A general disclaimer then: I would like to get the Big Ten Network, personally, and get it on basic cable. I also wouldn't mind if it cost $1.10. I wouldn't mind if it cost more than ESPN, because the benefit to the athletic departments would mostly be coming out of the pockets of people who aren't me. So that's where I'm coming from.
SO THE BIG CONFLICT HERE is over placement and price. Mark Silverman, president of the Big Ten Network, said that if cable carriers in the footprint did not put the Big Ten Network in their expanded basic pacakge, they wouldn't be permitted to carry the channel at all, and that the cable networks had been unresponsive about that placement. Therefore there was hardly anything to discuss. Connors confirmed this position, albeit with a quaifier:
"Clearly, that's their public position on this. So it's been hard to make any progress in negotiations. They've been pretty adamant."
"Public": the qualifier, the little bit of snark that might send Jim Delany into apoplexy. Recursion: both sides accuse each other of posturing; both sides are right; accusations of posturing are also posturing.
One of the frustrations in this odd experience of talking with these guys for extended periods of time was getting them off their talking points and to delve into some specifics. Anyone who's seen a presidential debate knows the feeling of being talked sort of... at. This isn't a Comcast or BTN thing, it's a general dealing with the media (and, more generally, public perception) thing, where repetition is the holy grail of remembrance. Head On. Apply directly to the forehead. The conversations, both of them, often seemed circular as the (marginal) interviewee wrangled the conversation back around to their desired topics. Maybe this is old hat to grizzled press-hat wearing journos, but, um, not guilty.
ANYWAY, A FREQUENT TOPIC of discussion was that the Big Ten was the anti-fan party here, with their insistence on a basic tier and the removal of all this content that was in the public domain â€“ or at least the syndicated domain â€“ into its own proprietary network. Comcast launched Comcast Local, a marginal RSN with things like baseball, Olympic sports, MAC (and less appealing) football, and Michigan hockey (sadly, road games remain infrequent) a couple years ago, and the network feels a little peeved that the groundwork they laid has been rendered inert, or at least weakened, by the upstart:
"All the Olympic sports, guess who covered those before at zero burden to customers on Comcast Local? We've gotten notes from coaches that say 'thanks, this helps recruiting.' But not once have received any acknowledgement from the Big Ten office."
I kind of doubt that Comcast was doing this out of the kindness of their heart, but I've watched Comcast Local and its commercials and can't believe it was actually making any money.
When the BTN-mentioned Blazers network came up, Connors challenged the Big Ten to do what it was by permitting placement on a sports tier "if they want to compare themselves to other networks." This was a frequent theme: the Big Ten's demands were unreasonable and only served their own selfish purposes, which put Comcast in a tough position:
"That's the awkward part of this. Part of my job is to negotiate deals with emerging networks. What's unique about this is there hasn't been a network that's demanded to be on basic. An increasing number go to digital."
Connors insisted that if the sports tier was greenlighted by the Big Ten, things would be smooth sailing:
"I'll add that channel tomorrow if they give me the launch codes tomorrow. We'll put the fan first, as corny as that sounds."
Connors' focus on the Big Ten's threat to execute, essentially, a denial-of-service attack on their own fans is something I don't think anyone has lost sight of. Connors is correct when he derides the BTN an attempt to "take five million dollars worth of content and charge Comcast 300 million for it over five years," although that content's worth whatever people will pay for it.
But only the endearingly naÃ¯ve would expect anything else from either party. The Big Ten's leverage lies in that segment of the fanbase willing to either switch providers or get a sports tier in order to acquire the channel; just saying "okey-dokey" to placement there would be bringing a sword to a gunfight.
LET'S TALK NUMBERS. One of the more interesting avenues of discussion centered on one of the Big Ten Network's very favorite competitor/analog. We talked about CSS, the southern network that runs 40s in 4.2 and is on basic cable across a wide swath of SEC country. The Big Ten Network loves that as a comparable regional sports network that Comcast happens to own that coincidentally happens to get widespread distribution and has, at least on the surface, way less compelling content.
Facts About CSS:
- CSS does have live sports: about 46 football games and 180-some basketball games
- About 10% of the football games involve an SEC or ACC team (these are usually the Michigan-Appalachian State equivalents); 20-30% of the basketball games do. (Ditto, though sometimes they get higher quality contests if you think a Vanderbilt-Michigan game â€“ which a friend of mine saw on CSS once â€“ counts as higher quality. If it was Ellerbe-era, probably not.) The rest are from Conference USA or Sun Belt or the local D-I basketball-only
- CSS content is not necessarily exclusive; local syndication is possible. Generally the SEC and ACC games get distributed locally.
- CSS costs "less than 30 cents" per subscriber. I took this to mean "somewhere from 25 to 29 cents," as if it was less than 25 he probably would have said "less than 25 cents."
One thing that got the many-repetitions treatment: a primary reason CSS occupies its basic cable slot is its age:
"CSS was launched nine years ago. If that would have come out of the ground in 2007, there's no one who would say that should be on expanded basic. And it's something that might move to a digital tier at some point in the future."
"When CSS came out of the ground in 1998 we we're still trying to fill eighty channels."
Connors then said that he envisioned a future where
all sports channels migrate to their own tiers and the idea of a basic cable sports network evaporates. I didn't mention this in to Connors because it didn't occur to me at the time, but it's hard to swallow that when my current package has Versus â€“ not that I want it to go away, Vive le Tour â€“ Speed, and the Golf Network. Those seem clearly less relevant and important to people in the BTN footprint than the Big Ten Network.
So, yeah this line of argument didn't really fly with me. Clearly there are some regional sports networks that cable companies have acceded to on their basic tiers because of the importance of their content to carriers. Heck, when Fox bought DirectTV regional sports networks got a special arbitration process so Rupert Murdoch couldn't deny access to other content providers that wanted to carry this critical content. (Critical in an "important to the consuming public" fashion, not a "helps Darfur" fashion.) So it's a matter of deciding whether the BTN is closer to whatever your local carrier of MLB/NHL/NBA games is or to something like the NFL Network or NBA TV. It obviously exists in a gray area between the two. It's not a national item of intermittent interest like the latter; it's not a laser-focused must-have that would cause mass defections if it was not present.
The Big Ten Network misrepresented CSS to me, and I'm glad Connors clarified to me that the network was not the 1987 Iron Bowl repeating 24 hours a day, but I think Comcast tried to do the same thing. I had to wrangle the percentages of SEC/ACC teams featured out of Connors, as the original phrasing was something like "45 football games including SEC and ACC games," but... like...four or five? I made the point that a few SEC or ACC games interspersed among Conference USA and Sun Belt (boo!) games didn't make for a good comparison here; the Big Ten Network clearly has a more compelling programming lineup. So it was something of a shock to me when I asked for a clarification on what Comcast considered to be a non-burdensome price to consumers, and got this response:
"On aggregate, we value this channel at between 8 and 25 cents."
Yikes. I never really got a perspective on this number, though I tried. It seems preposterously low if it's meant to be a per-subscriber cost in the Big Ten footprint. I asked if that was an in-footprint number and got an assent; I still think that this is a miscommunication of some variety. I pressed on the CSS-BTN comparison, since it seems totally unreasonable to offer less for a network with much more interesting content, but this was clearly an uncomfortable part of the conversation and didn't get a rationale behind that beyond...
"The broader distribution makes the carrying costs lower. The only way for a channel to get widely distributed usually is if it proves itself."
...which did not explain the gap.
WHERE IS THIS HEADED? Connors did say that he was sure that there would be "expedited" negotiations over the next couple weeks where parties from both sides lock themselves in a room and fight to the death. Both Silverman and Connors, when pressed, claimed to be "optimistic" that a deal would get done â€“ that word precisely from both of them â€“ but based that optimism mostly on the belief that the other party was weak like Ukraine and would fold. Connors, when asked if basic is a possibility given some Big Ten price flexibility:
No, I can't see it on basic this fall. I won't say there's no scenario on basic. If the rate's at a number that isn't a burden to consumers...
The implication there was that the two parties were far apart on what constitutes a "burden" at the moment. Connors, for his part, invoked the idea that Big Ten president's wouldn't stand for the channel's unavailability:
I think there's such an overwhelming, pragmatic argument that is against the currently proposed Big Ten Network. I guarantee university presidents think it's not their goal to charge a fee to every household in Michigan. I guarantee the presidents were never briefed on this. I think that will overcome some of the insanity that's been proposed in the last month and a half. I think it will get placement on a sports tier.
We'll know in a couple weeks.
What strikes me is that both sides here have reached out to all sorts of media, including pissant bloggers, in a fight that's become public in a way that doesn't happen when, say, ESPN Classic gets booted to the high stratosphere, let alone the Food Network or National Geographic or whatever. And this subject acquires more comments and emails than any other save the absolutely true and incontrovertible fact that Notre Dame runs on the souls of babies. That alone indicates to me that both the Big Ten and Comcast have significant interest in getting the channel on in some way or another. I don't think we go into the year without the BTN available, but that's just a hunch, and one biased by hope at that.
From Monday's mailbag:
...if you have ESPN and ESPN2, there is no such thing as a regional ABC game anymore. All Big Ten games on ABC will be shown in markets that aren't receiving the game on either ESPN or ESPN2. No more frantically hoping that the daft programming director avoids UConn-BC. Every game that Michigan plays is either on the BTN or nationally televised.
As a result: Michigan fans should not get Gameplan unless they want it for ACC/SEC/Big 12/etc purposes.
A quick review of the announcement from the Big Ten reveals one potentially major caveat:
All regional afternoon football games aired on ABC will be aired by ESPN/ESPN2 in outer-markets, making these games nationally available
Emphasis mine. ABC, of course, started a successful "Saturday Night Football" franchise which it will continue this fall. Some of these games are regionalized. Last year's schedule, with Big Ten games highlighted:
Sept. 2, 8 p.m. ET: Notre Dame at Georgia Tech
â€¢ Sept. 9, 8 p.m. ET: Ohio State at Texas
â€¢ Sept. 16, 8 p.m. ET: Nebraska at USC
â€¢ Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET: Notre Dame at Michigan State; USC at Arizona
â€¢ Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET: Ohio State at Iowa or Michigan at Minnesota*
â€¢ Oct. 7, 8 p.m. ET: Oregon at California; ACC, Big 12 or BIG EAST (12-day selection)
â€¢ Oct. 14, 8 p.m. ET: Michigan at Penn State; Arizona State at USC
â€¢ Nov. 4, 8 p.m. ET: UCLA at California; ACC, Big 12 or BIG EAST (12-day selection)
â€¢ Nov. 11, 8 p.m. ET: ACC, Big 12 or BIG EAST (12-day selection)
â€¢ Nov. 18, 8 p.m. ET: California at USC; ACC, Big 12 or BIG EAST (12-day selection)
â€¢ Nov. 25, 8 p.m. ET: Notre Dame at USC
â€¢ Dec. 2, 8 p.m. ET: Dr Pepper Big 12 Championship Game
The asterisk indicates that the game not chosen -- in this case, Michigan-Minnesota -- ended up on ESPN instead. So last year two Big Ten games would unavailable in whatever portions of the country got the USC game (West Coast only, basically).
This year Michigan has most of its big games at home, where they don't play night games. However, Wisconsin is on the road and, given the relative hype levels of both teams entering this year, seems a holy lock to be an ABC Saturday Night game that may or may not be regionalized. I dropped a note to someone at the Big Ten Network asking what the status of this game would be for Michigan fans living in the wrong part of the country should this happen. The response:
Beginning in 2007, the only time a Big Ten ABC game might end up on GamePlan is in the rare instance that ABC is regionalizing a prime-time Big Ten game.
So I was right and I was wrong: there is a chance Michigan will end up on GamePlan sometime this year. Mea culpa. But the only reasonable chance it might happen would be for the Wisconsin game, and that may be a national telecast. You are still advised to avoid the season package and just get it for that specific weekend* if it's necessary. Or go to a bar.
*(I believe this is possible but am not entirely sure since I've never shelled out for it myself, although it is tax-deductible for me this year... hmmmm. Anyway, if this is not an option please correct me in the comments.)
Living in DC, I've been a loyal DirecTV subscriber to the ESPN Gameplan package for 5 years, since it is the only way to reliably ensure that I'll be seeing Michigan's Big 10 games on the east coast instead of the typical Clemson-Wake Forest ACC dreck that ABC generally substitutes as the "regional game of interest" each week.
I was surprised to get my glossy DirecTV ESPN Gameplan mailer this week telling me that for my $109, I'd be fortunate to get football games from major conferences like the Big 12, SEC, Pac-10 and ACC, along with the Big East, WAC, Sun Belt and MAC (these are major?). Glaring omission: Big 10 is out of the Gameplan.
Possible plus: I can save $109 by cancelling Gameplan, and I get BTN for free as part of the DirecTV package I already pay for.
But...a possible (and very disturbing) minus: Michigan game is on ABC, East Coast idiots determine that Clemson-Wake Forest is the more interesting regional game, and I am unable to see the Wolverines on either BTN or ESPN Gameplan. The latter was always insurance for these purposes, but with Big 10 out of the plan, that option seems to have been wiped out.
Frustrating call to a rather clueless DirecTV rep named Conchita failed to answer any of these questions adequately.
In your exhaustive review of the BTN and its global impact, have you run up against this issue? It would seem that the Big 10 would still want to participate in ESPN Gameplan so that loyal out-of-state alumni will have some option to see those ABC regional games that don't make it out of the midwest.
Thanks, and of course, Go Blue!
I've knocked the Big Ten office for a lot of stuff in recent weeks, but they did handle this Gameplan exit deftly. In short: if you have ESPN and ESPN2, there is no such thing as a regional ABC game anymore. All Big Ten games on ABC will be shown in markets that aren't receiving the game on either ESPN or ESPN2. No more frantically hoping that the daft programming director avoids UConn-BC. Every game that Michigan plays is either on the BTN or nationally televised.
As a result: Michigan fans should not get Gameplan unless they want it for ACC/SEC/Big 12/etc purposes.
(Sidenote: hopefully this means I can now regularly watch things like the Red River Shootout, which is almost always an ABC regional game that gets blown off the air by something like Minnesota-Penn State. That ESPN channel showing the regionalized Big Ten game has to show something in the areas where said game is on ABC, and it'll probably be another ABC regional game, yesno?)
Brian, I was considering the benefits of scheduling a difficult non-conference opponent, and they are many. Michigan can maintain seven home games if they schedule two cupcakes at home, then alternate travelling to difficult sites when the Irish come to Ann Arbor and hosting difficult opponents when they travel to South Bend. When ND is off for two years, schedule home-and homes with two tough opponents. When ND comes back on, organize a home-and-home with one difficult opponent.
Tougher scheduling would mean increased exposure and possible primetime Saturday games. Michigan must do a better job appealing to recruits nationally if they want to become a powerhouse like USC (and who would not like that?). Schedule games against opponents in talent-rich markets with plenty of potential viewers. Bring our team to the recruits. Here are my top ten candidates MIchigan should consider.
Miami, USC, Texas, UCLA, Miami, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Texas A&M, and Virginia Tech. Cal would also be a good opponent because the Bay Area has a lot of talent.
Michigan needs to back up their claim to being "The Leaders and Best". If we schedule tougher opponents we wouldn't be so scared of mid-level Big Ten teams or tough opponents in the Rose Bowl.
Thoughts? Maybe bloggers and concerned fans should write the AD. From, Andrew.
I don't think there's a college football fan alive that wouldn't like his team to step up their scheduling unless our hypothetical everyfan likes USC. I'm with you: while I'm glad the Notre Dame series is continuing, the brief moment in which a Texas or Georgia or Tennessee series seemed feasible was fun. Now it's unlikely any Michigan fan will see a truly elite nonconference opponent in the Big House until we have the technology to send Arnold Schwarzenegger back in time to prevent Jim Tressel from ever being born. Even if we accidentally schedule some mid-level BCS team that manages to flail itself into the top ten just in time for us to play them, that team won't have the history or sex appeal of the aforementioned trio or one of the Florida schools. If only we could rely on Notre Dame to maintain their 90s-level performance; alas and alack, it is not so. We're not going to get a big time team in any time soon.
But I do think that the above proposal for a seven game home schedule with two MAC pancakes and two actual opponents should be the model going forward. This year is an anomalous schedule with both eight home games and two respectable nonconference opponents borne of our desire to delay Oregon's return trip originally scheduled for 2003; future eight-game home schedules will be like Penn State's 2007 nonconference schedule: Notre Dame and the three dwarves (Temple, Buffalo, and FIU). Michigan shouldn't stand for that. Repeats of last year, where the interesting nonconference home game was Vanderbilt, should not be allowed to happen.
Now that we have him in our grasps I feel more comfortable asking the question. Does McGuffie have any chance of moving up to 5-stars on Rivals when they re-evaluate (whenever that is). This guy is talked about everywhere. I can't believe how much hype it seems he gets. What do you think? Also, is he going to step right in and play with Grady, Minor, and presumably Carlos Brown ahead of him?
McGuffie will have plenty of chances to convert doubters this fall with a senior year at Cy-Fair and the Army Bowl to come. If he can replicate last year's success behind what I believe is an entirely (or almost entirely) new offensive line, he'll probably crack the Rivals 100. A five star? Probably not, but it's worth nothing that both ESPN (#97 overall) and Scout (#59) are higher on McGuffie than Rivals, which omits him from its top 100, and maybe one or two services could be impressed enough to move him up into such rarefied air. Tom Lemming is probably going to rank him way ridiculously high, too, but around these parts we don't take him seriously. So there's a chance. Personally, I am doubtful Rivals will change course on him. They've pigeonholed him not as a white guy but as an "all-purpose back" and even when he went to the Boulder Nike camp and impressed, Rivals guys said he was really good catching the ball out of the backfield and it just confirmed their opinions. They've adopted a bunker mentality here and significant movement in his rankings is unlikely.
As far as playing time goes: the opportunity is certainly there. The coaches cling to Mike Hart like he's their Binky Bear, but in his absence it's doubtful one running back emerges from the pile two games in and establishes a death lock on the job like he did. For the first time in what seems like forever, a rotation is likely deep into the season. McGuffie will be a part of that rotation.
I've been looking all over the web for the incoming freshman jersey numbers. Do you know when they arrive on campus and get there jersey numbers? I heard that Woolfolk is already on campus.---Jim Boyle
My super-secret sources declare thusly:
- #6 Donovan Warren
- #15 Ryan Mallett
- #17 Toney Clemons
- #21 Junior Hemingway
- #26 Zion Babb
- #29 Troy Woolfolk
- #30 Ja
mes Rogers II
- #32 Vince Helmuth
- #33 Marell Evans
- #34 Avery Horn
- #38 Artis Chambers
- #40 Mike Williams Jr.
- #50 Dave Molk
- #53 Ryan Van Bergen
- #58 Brandon Herron
- #72 Mark Huyge
- #80 Martell Webb
- #81 Steve Watson
- #95 Renaldo Sagesse
JUCO Austin Panter is #54.
I am a student at the university and I am concerned about the tight end position this year. I was reading on the Mlive forum that Carson Butler's father talked to Lloyd Carr about a possible reinstatement. Do you think this will happen, and is it a good idea or not? On the field he is a better pass catcher than Massey, and if he is able to overcome his past woes, he may end up in the NFL.
This has been batted around as a possibility and there is enough internets smoke to declare that, yes, Butler would very much like to rejoin the team after being acquitted in the St. Patrick's Day Nerd Massacre, and that someone affiliated with his camp has been attempting to talk Carr into it. We won't know anything more until someone works up the temerity to ask Carr about it at a press conference of some sort -- I have put in a request to FanHouse machine Michael David Smith, who will be at Big Ten media day today -- and even then things promise to remain murky into the fall. Even if Butler does end up back on the team, which is not close to a given, I doubt he sees the light of day this year, as Carr will probably put him on Pierre Woods triple-secret-you-don't-play- even-if-the-alternative-is-Pat-Massey* probation for 2007 with the potential for full reinstatement only coming in the Mallett era.
I'd like to emphasize that the above is speculation and consists of no insider info at all.
*(Operative theory here is that Woods would have been a fine weakside DE and allowed Branch to move back inside, leaving the 2005 DL to read like so: Woods-Branch-Watson-Woodley.)
Two sentences in I gave up and just started trying to include as many abbreviations as possible.
A couple days ago EchoStar, the owner of Dish Network, filed a request for the FCC to rule the Big Ten Network a "regional sports network." The Big Ten thinks is for stupids:
The Big Ten Network reiterated Wednesday that it is a national, not regional, sports network and called EchoStar's suggestion it was not a "brazen attempt to increase its negotiating leverage."
This is a tricky tightrope for the Network to walk, because the whole reason it's a big deal whether or not the BTN is an RSN is because RSNs are such a BFD that the FCC has a special carveout in their regulations for them. The ever-helpful Hoosier Report highlights the relevant sections of the legislation. The gist is that when News Corp, the multi-tentacled Rupert Murdoch corporation, bought a way to distribute programming one of the conditions of the sale was the imposition of this arbitration process for various things for which there exist no substitutes, like regional sports.
If the Big Ten Network is declared an RSN they're subject to binding arbitration over just how much it costs. So even if you're all about the Big Ten Network you probably want them to lose this scuffle, as then EchoStar has the option of binding arbitration, i.e. the network gets put on the air. I don't know if cable companies would follow suit (if they even have the option to), as they seem to want to avoid the whole idea of the BTN entirely.
Is the BTN an RSN? Dunno. Neither does THR, but the cited post above takes a crack at it anyway:
I haven't read closely enough to have much of an opinion. A quick read does suggest that my prior discussion of the difference between an RSN and a national network may not have been completely out to lunch. The FCC does seem to assign some significance to the geographically restricted nature of the pro sports programming on RSNs. In the case of pro sports, the geographical restrictions are at the behest of the leagues; for the BTN, while the actual demand is dramatically higher in the right state region, the BTN allows and actually wants people outside the footprint to watch the games, too. Is this distinction meaningful? I don't know, maybe I'll look deeper, but not today.
Mark Silverman is president of the Big Ten Network and, apparently, is on a sort of media -- any media -- blitz as the saber-rattling between the BTN and cable operators reaches its peak in the month before D-Day. Exhibit A: this interview at Peegs.com. (HT: The Hoosier Report.) Exhibit B: the BTN office reached out to me and asked if I would like to have an interview with Silverman.
The ensuing scramble to get some sort of recording capability came up empty -- I shake my fist at you, Skype -- and so I spent a lot of time frantically transcribing. Some quotes may not have 100% fidelity as a result, but they all communicate Silverman's intent fairly. Anyway...
I started by reading Mr. Silverman a quote that was highlighted in an earlier editon of UV:
"We're well on our way toward ensuring that roughly half the subscribers to smaller cable systems across the Midwest have better access to their favorite Big Ten schools and teams than anytime in history."
This seemed a worrisome scaling back of ambition, albeit one that could have been taken out of context. Silverman did confirm that the fears generated by that quote were unfounded: "The point was more specifically referring to the smaller companies. By no stretch is that any sort of implication about the larger companies."
As the conversation progressed, this became clear: the Big Ten is not and has not reduced its goals. They are no more backing down than any of the cable operators are. In fact, when I asked whether there was a backup plan if basic tiers were not possible Silverman repeatedly stated the Big Ten Network is "not deserving of a sports tier" and that they needed to be "sure the network was launched appropriately," then dropped something of a bombshell: if cable operators in the footprint are not willing to put the channel on a basic tier they won't be permitted to carry it at all. This is an all-or-nothing gambit, and this is why Silverman got in contact.
"It means more access. Martin wants to build the school, to build the exposure. The more you can put it on, the more you showcase these universities and make them seen nationally. It's a great exposure tool for the school in general and for the conference."
(Silverman did confirm that they were way more flexible outside of the footprint, willing to accept placement on sports tiers for a lesser fee than that charged by ESPNU or CSTV. Ironically, if you're in Phoenix you have a better chance at having the channel available than Ann Arbor.)
Said gambit is either brilliant or insane depending on whether it works, a real Schroedinger's cat situation. I don't think I have to convince anyone who reads this blog that having the BTN on basic cable is good for both Michigan fans and the University itself. The more revenue the channel generates, the better positioned the Big Ten is in the ongoing filthy lucre wars between conferences, and, frankly, I'd probably watch the BTN a ton.
One thing that Silverman did convince me of is that the universally used -- for scorn -- comparable, the NFL Network, isn't comparable at all. Despite the fact that the NFL is the King Kong of American sports, their network had eight games all year. The rest of their schedule is like highlights and analysis and, basically, junk. The BTN is going to have multiple football games every week plus a ton of basketball games, and act as an ESPN Classic for the conference. (Except without the suck.) The sheer number of televised events makes it comparable to a Fox Sports Net, not the NFL network. The problem, of course, is that a local FSN has a ton of events guaranteed to be high profile and laser focused on wherever it's distributed; meanwhile a Purdue-Indiana football game may not be of extreme interest in Wisconsin or Michigan. Silverman acknowleges this:
"There's a lot of confusion because there's not an exact comparable, but if you look at local and regional networks â€“ most of which are owned by Comcast â€“ and it's significantly less. None of their networks are on a sports tier."
This is true. A brief listing of Comcast-owned RSNs:
- Comcast Sports Chicago: $3.75
- Comcast Sports Philadelphia: $3.10
- Comcast Sports Mid-Atlantic: $2.50
- Comcast Sports Northwest: $2.00
- Sportsnet NY (Time Warner -- Mets): $1.80
All of these channels are on expanded basic, as are Versus, the Golf Channel (THE GOLF CHANNEL), and something called CSS Sports, a southeastern channel whose main attraction is single-A baseball and SEC games... on tape delay. That is in six million homes, about what the Big Ten Network's projected footprint is. The "Northwest" edition of Comcast Sports is especially egregious because their entire programming lineup is 50 Blazers games. That's it. Evidently Comcast doesn't care about the "Blazers tax" they're imposing on Oregon, nor the "Tape Delayed SEC tax" on the southeast or the "Frickin' Golf And Not Even Interesting Golf tax" currently being deployed on virtually everyone.
The Big Ten Network's widely reported $1.10 -- a number Silverman said was "probably ballpark" but, oddly, one that he'd "never confirmed" -- doesn't seem out of whack at all in relation to those numbers. Sure, it's probably not worth anywhere near what channels full of NBA/MLB/NHL games are, but they aren't asking for a price near that, and they are providing everything they have at the basic carriage price:
"There's two networks, an HD network and a regular one, a VOD [video on demand -ed] one, and all these overflow channels that we're offering for free. Comcast is going to get a ton of new HD subscribers because all these new games are on that weren't in HD."
(It is possible this is SOP for cable networks and this is not really a point in their favor, though I do think the HD point is cromulent.) Silverman made it clear that the BTN wasn't married to $1.10, but if cable operators were going to stall on placement on basic cable there would be no discussion:
"If they said 'it's on basic,' then we're off to the races. I have to believe it's posturing. I can't believe they're going to hang their hat on that. You can't even have a legitimate conversation on price until you agree on what level of service you're talking about."
At some point he asked me what I thought -- hey, who's doing the interview here? -- and I said I felt like a pawn, then accidentally got off a pithy quote: "it seems like your leverage is our outrage." It does feel like we fans are caught in a Mexican standoff, except both guns are pointed at our collective head. And instead of a gun we have a rubber chicken. Any trigger-pulling will be a mutual act of our two antagonists, but Comcast's rife hypocrisy shouldn't be obscured by the Big Ten's PR-deaf commissioner.
Will the trigger get pulled? Don't know. Neither does Silverman:
"It's going to go on for a while there. We hope to convince them to carry it on a basic level. I do think we'll get it on the air. But... I don't know. We definitely have some work ahead of us."
Hockey Aside: I asked what the hockey coverage was looking like, and he said there would be "ten to fifteen games" on the network this fall and that they would be "above and beyond" the current coverage provided... probably. Obviously hockey isn't A-1 on his priority list, so he wasn't 100% up to date on their projected coverage. Since Minnesota and (I think) Wisconsin have very good TV packages with their local Fox Sports affiliates I assume most of those
would be Michigan/Michigan State/Ohio State games. Hopefully some will be, you know, on the road.