It’s hard to believe today given reports of an imminent breakup between ESPN and the Big Ten Conference, but the relationship was once strong enough to determine who won the Heisman Trophy. was suspected to be
Twenty-five years ago, in the midst of one of the most controversial and controversial Heisman races, a broad fan base in Tennessee was convinced there was a fix. About volunteer quarterback Peyton Manning.
It’s unlikely that there was a concerted effort by ESPN to help Woodson become the first (and only) primarily defensive player to win a Heisman Award. ESPN’s show was in good hands in 1997. Six regular Michigan games of his season were televised by his ESPN platform, and the remaining five of his were televised by his ABC. Disney acquired ABC in his 1996 and began integrating it with ESPN. Meanwhile, more than half of Tennessee’s games were broadcast outside of ESPN and ABC outlets.
Additionally, eight of Michigan’s 1997 games kicked off at noon or 12:30 ET on the network’s “GameDay” show. TV Promotion 101 is trying to keep its viewers on for as long as possible, so it makes sense to talk a lot about the undefeated Wolverines and Woodson on “GameDay” as viewer hooks. Two Michigan games were broadcast live: the home game against Colorado and the opening game at Michigan State University on October 25. Tennessee’s September 20 game in Florida was also a “GameDay” location .)
The midday game was often followed by 14 hours of Michigan highlights. The Wolverines won the game, won the news cycle, and ultimately Woodson won the Heisman Trophy.
The ’97 season highlights how deep the relationship between ESPN and the Big Ten was then, and how irrelevant it is now. It’s a dusty exhibit at the Conspiracy Theory Museum. In recent years, cynics have declared that ESPN is sleeping with the SEC, not the Big Ten, and now those people are fresh fodder.
big ten make a statement on Tuesday We stress that nothing has been finalized in the media rights negotiations. I have no plans to sign a contract.
In 2021, when Texas, Oklahoma, SEC and ESPN first moved the earth under everyone’s feet, no one saw it before it came. New boundaries were drawn when Big Ten and Fox Sports responded by acquiring USC and UCLA less than six weeks after him.
In the new world order, Fox and the Big Ten vs. ESPN and the Southeastern Conference seek college sports supremacy and hefty cash, with plenty of collateral damage elsewhere. In the past, networks had to coexist in media rights agreements with conferences. Now, the largest of these joint ventures is reportedly disappearing.
This is where we stand now, in an era where TV money dictates all decisions. The college athletic meet is nothing more than a TV channel, the biggest of which selects sides in unprecedented ways.
Hopefully, the major networks don’t follow the route of their internal subsidiaries (Big Ten Network or SEC Network) and select their on-air talent based on where they’re from. At that level it’s understandable, but it shouldn’t be extended beyond that.
Big Ten alums Kirk Herbstrait (Ohio) and Desmond Howard (Michigan) were mainstays of “GameDay,” and breaking up that band to make the SEC alum even better would undermine its credibility. (although former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy is capable). Similarly, USC and Notre Dame’s Reggie Bush, Matt He Reinert, and Brady Quinn should continue to appear on Fox Sports’ “Big Noon He Kicks Off” show and be replaced by members of the Big Ten. Don’t worry.
But in this climate, no one knows how they will unfold. Objectivity in the network seems to be more disposable than ever.
There is some risk with the Big Ten’s likely move toward multi-tier deals with Fox, CBS and NBC. ESPN may lose Cable his subscription by a bushel, but it remains the default first viewing option for many sports fans. Additionally, ESPN established an early brand in the college space and continues to be the leading venue for college content.
Abandoning that 40-year partnership would likely result in a price drop for viewers and a downgrade in terms of exposure via ESPN.com. (I suspect Fox Sports will try to upgrade the college content on his website, which was torn apart in the infamous “pivot to video” a few years ago and slowly began to put itself back together.)
Further ramifications of the Big Ten splitting with ESPN could be beneficial for Pac-12 trying to survive after being shattered by the loss of USC and UCLA. ESPN now has a new need for programming, the rights to Pac-12 are up for bid, and there’s still a tempting West Coast market and Saturday Night Game Window to maximize (#Pac12AfterDark).
Discussions are also underway about a potential Pac-12 broadcast partnership with the ACC that could leverage the ESPN-owned ACC network. There’s also the potential to boost earnings into the two Power 5 leagues.
Either way, the days of ESPN’s booming, profitable and mutually beneficial Big 10 games seem to be over. It takes some getting used to. Broadcasting fronts are drawn for the foreseeable future, and common ground for cooperation among power brokers is fading.
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