Big East TV Contract May Double to $460 Million

The Big East Conference may get as much as $460 million for multiyear television contracts to its college basketball and football games, media analysts said.

The conference, which has 16 members for basketball, may get an increase close to the 130 percent that the Atlantic Coast Conference received when News Corp.’s Fox and Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN got in a bidding war, RBC Capital’s David Bank said.

The Big East’s six-year, $200 million contract with Disney’s ESPN network runs through the end of the 2012 season. Commissioner John Marinatto said in December that boosting television fees is a priority for the conference, which has hired former National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to help. Interest from ESPN and other broadcasters, including Comcast Corp.’s Versus and Time Warner Inc.’s Turner network, may increase the league’s income, analysts said.

“They are going to see a substantial increase, having additional bidders bids up the rights fees,” Bank said. “It’s conceivable that they could they see the kind of increase that the ACC saw.”

The ACC increased its annual rights fees to $155 million from almost $67 million a year in a contract with ESPN.

The Big East, which includes Villanova University, Rutgers University, St. John’s University, Georgetown University and the University of Connecticut, is playing its men’s basketball tournament this week in New York.

“It’s a seller’s market for major college conference sports content and for major sports content in general,” Westchester, New York-based media consultant Lee Berke said. “If the Big East is able to offer up its programming to a very competitive marketplace that now includes Comcast/NBC, Turner and Fox as well as ESPN, the conference should generate a healthy gain for its next TV deal.”

ACC Example

Berke does consulting work with schools, including the University of Oklahoma in the Big 12 and the University of Pittsburgh in the Big East. Both he and Bank said their projections were based on what happened with the ACC, a basketball-heavy conference like the Big East, and not on any specific knowledge of what networks intend to do regarding rights bids.

The Big East has eight member schools for football. While the league is one of six affiliated with the Bowl Championship Series for football, its strength is in basketball. Its members have won 10 national titles.

The Big East this season has 10 teams with 20 or more wins and will likely break its own record of eight berths in the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament. While the Big East’s last national champion in basketball was Connecticut in 2004, it’s the only conference to have at least one team reach the final eight of the NCAA tournament every year since


(Corrects percentage increase in second paragraph, Berke’s affiliation in eighth of story published yesterday.)
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