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New TV deal not all it’s cracked up to be

May 03, 2018

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May is to me the toughest time of the year for collegiate sports, as most of the sports are starting to wind down. But, have no fear, the Sun Belt and ESPN have teamed up to contract a new TV deal that has taken me a month to dive into, but never the less will impact Georgia Southern and the Sun Belt as a whole for the future.

Back in March, the Sun Belt put out a tweet that teased some announcement to be revealed, but it was not hard to derive its meaning, with the image containing the typical multicolor TV signal screen and the ESPN logo. Clearly it was some sort of TV deal that was in the works, but what we did not know was how massive this TV deal would be. Now when I use the word “massive” I’m not necessarily referring to the monetary size, but rather the growth of exposure for the Sun Belt.

So we thought.

Commissioner Karl Benson laid out all of the new perks in a video published by the conference, and originally, I found myself with most of Eagle Nation in thought that it was pretty good. For those of you that have not seen the details, here is what ESPN will be providing, followed by some of my thoughts.

The deal runs through the 2027-28 school year.

I personally am not sure how I feel about this, as ESPN+ is brand new, and if it fails the Sun Belt may in fact start to lose money off of this.

The Sun Belt Football Championship game will air on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2. This I like, as normally the Sun Belt gets kicked to the U for TV games, but this shows that ESPN is willing to place our conference on the same networks and same day as the ACC, American Athletic, Conference USA and Mountain West championship games in only the first year having a championship game.

All Sun Belt Home football games will be on an ESPN platform.  This is nothing new, as ESPN has broadcasted all home football games for six years. The only difference is that instead of ESPN 3, the games will be on ESPN+.

By the 2020-21 school year, a minimum of 500 Sun Belt events will be on an ESPN platform. This is interesting, as if you do the math, each school will have on average 42 events per year broadcasted. This is astronomically higher than what is broadcasted now, which will bring much more exposure and access to watch Sun Belt sports.


By the 2020-21 school year, all Sun Belt football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball will be on an ESPN platform. This is huge for women’s basketball, as I cannot recall a time in which I have seen a Georgia Southern women’s basketball game on ESPN 3. It will grow the access in this facet tremendously, and will supplement the men’s basketball access, as currently about 50 percent of the games are on an ESPN platform.

Beginning in the 2020 football season, Sun Belt will have at least 10 football games on a national television platform (ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU). This I am cautious to say is good, because yes there will be more access and national spotlight, however that brings in more chances of having a game being pushed to a Wednesday or Thursday night, or even worse, a noon kickoff in the Statesboro September heat.

What has not been announced is how much money the Sun Belt and each school will pocket as a part of this deal. People close to the deal all agree it will be more than what each school currently makes, which is $100,000, which is not great, but not terrible. I strongly feel that the money total will have some variance based upon two things: the conference’s performance, as well as the profits coming from ESPN+.

Now, you have seen me bring up this new ESPN+ a few times now, which is an essential part of this deal. ESPN+ is Disney’s/ESPN’s dive into the streaming industry. The company is basically going to get rid of ESPN3 (you know, the free streaming), and now relabel it with a plus sign and charge us fine folks to watch. ESPN+ is going to be $4.99 a month to watch the Sun Belt, as well as all other non-Power 5 sports. Time will tell how this service as a whole will play out, as there is a lot of rolling out to do, as the service just started on April 12. It has some positive lights to it, as it will bring every MLS game to viewers, one NHL game a day, one MLB game a day, featured coverage of the PGA tour during the week, the entire 30-for-30 collection, and a royal load of collegiate sports. However, is it really worth $5 a month? Oh and also, don’t think of using this as a replacement for cable, as you will still need a TV provider to view the events on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and the SEC Network.

For me, I don’t see the benefit of ESPN+ just yet, as it pertains to Georgia Southern. I thoroughly enjoy listening to Danny Reed on all the games I can’t watch on TV, so I am not hurting there. Now when 2020 rolls around and the large chunks of this deal kicks in, I believe that ESPN+ might be worth it for those like me who follow every school in the conference, assuming ESPN maintains the price of $4.99/month. However, for those who don’t have an unhealthy obsession with Sun Belt athletics, it may be best to hold off of this deal and stick with Danny Reed, Collin Lacy and the entire Georgia Southern Sports Network by listening for free online.

Bottom line, I believe the Sun Belt wanted to be the first to jump into this deal with ESPN to say they were the first, which is why the announcement came when it did. However, we will have to wait at least three years for us to see any dividends pay off for the conference as a whole, as the changes will not start to roll in until 2020.


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