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Past reports indicate that the Mountain West is about to enter a period of time where their media rights holder, CBS Sports, will have an exclusive right to negotiate with the Mountain West regarding their upcoming tv deal. in 2017 the Mountain West turned down a renewal so CBS will need to offer some kind of increase to make the Mountain West consider signing a deal with them and not ESPN during the exclusive negotiating period. CBS likely won't make an offer that will cause the Mountain West to NOT talk to ESPN about a similar deal to what the American reached in terms of games on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU/ESPN+. However, there is a chance that CBS will make an offer that approaches the Mountain West's worth after the AAC deal (at least 3x increase) that might cause the Mountain West to actually consider staying with CBS rather than seeking an agreement with ESPN similar to the AAC deal. The only thing CBS can offer which might make the Mountain West consider going with that network rather than ESPN is over the air broadcasts. For example, both Boise State and Hawaii could play after SEC games and their specific rights packages could guarantee a certain number of OTA home games for those two teams who will be offered with specific rights separate from the overall MW media package. CBS might also be willing to only purchase tier 1/2 games and allow the Mountain West to retain the remaining rights so long as they aren't on an ESPN/ABC platform. The MW might be able to get a favorable deal with AT&T Sportsnet and some Prime Ticket RSNs with a CBS deal that wouldn't be possible with an ABC/ESPN deal requiring ESPN+. However, ESPN really does offer better exposure than CBS on their cable networks so long as a couple games are broadcast over the air on ABC. Just to refresh, the specifics from ESPN- AAC deal are below. CBS Sports currently has the rights to 19 'window 4' games so if ESPN acquired those rights in addition to the 22 games (6 boise and 16 other) the MW plays now on ESPN/ESPN2 and ESPNU so there are 41 regular season games to be shown. If ESPNU takes 13 Window 4 games like most people expect, there are still another 13 Window 4 games on ESPN/ESPN2 with the remaining fifteen split between Thursday, Friday and Saturday Window 2 and 3 games if the MW got an AAC -comparable deal with 40+ games on ESPN with 20 on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2. ESPN using all that MW content along with its existing rights isn't impossible given that more than half of a 40 game football requirement are in Window 4 when the Pac 12 is the significantly more expensive and BYU only offers, at most, six games for ESPN to broadcast. https://espnmediazone.com/us/press-releases/2019/03/espn-and-american-athletic-conference-reach-long-term-media-rights-extension/ Football: At least 40 regular season games per season, including at least 20 on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 which represents increased annual exposure across those networks versus the current agreement. A similar number of Thursday, Friday and Saturday games. Conference Championship game on ABC or ESPN each year. Men’s Basketball: At least 65 regular season games per season, with at least 25 across ESPN and ESPN2. Complete annual coverage of the Conference tournament across ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU, including the Conference Championship game on ESPN. Women’s Basketball: At least 13 regular season games per season, with a minimum of five on ESPN and ESPN2. Conference Tournament Semifinals on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU and the Conference Final on ESPN or ESPN2. More Sports: A minimum of five additional Olympic sports events from the The American per year will air on ESPN networks as well, with details to be determined at a later date. ESPN+ Thousands of Events, Including Regular Season and Conference Championship Events ESPN+ will carry over 11,000 events from The American throughout the duration of the agreement, including thousands of football and men’s and women’s basketball games. Football: Approximately 30-35 games per year in addition to those on ESPN’s linear networks Men’s Basketball: Approximately 135 conference-controlled games in addition to those on ESPN’s linear networks. Women’s Basketball: Approximately 160 conference-controlled games per year in addition to those on ESPN’s linear networks, plus the first round and quarterfinals of the conference tournament. Additional Sports: Hundreds of games each year across all multiple sports, including baseball, softball, women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s soccer, and volleyball. Conference Championships: Conference Championship action across multiple sports, including: men’s and women’s cross country, golf, indoor and outdoor track & field, soccer, swimming & diving, tennis, baseball, lacrosse, rowing, softball, and volleyball. As part of the agreement, all ESPN+ events will be produced and branded as the American Digital Network, and accessible to fans of the Conference alongside live streamed events from ESPN networks and other related video in an American-branded landing page on the ESPN App, providing a one-stop destination for fans to view conference events. The content will also be served to fans who select The American Conference member schools among their favorites in the ESPN App. ESPN also is committed to enhancing The American’s brand during all of its TV Network telecasts.
Here is a link to a longish Orlando Sentinel article where Aresco discusses at length where the AAC is prior to entering into negotiations with ESPN. https://www.orlandosentinel.com/sports/ucf-knights/os-sp-aac-mike-aresco-0129-story.html “I can’t say too much about it other than our negotiating period is just days away and we’ll be engaging and obviously we love our relationship with ESPN and we’ll see where that goes.” “I think it's very important to our conference to play those Friday games. It’s really critical to the survival of our conference as a major TV entity. We have a great product on Saturdays, too. We have great Thursday games. Fridays are important and they're more valuable than Thursdays because you don’t have the NFL sitting there.” The important thing to know is that an exclusive negotiating window exists in the AAC's tv contract with ESPN that ends at the end of February. The MW anticipates beginning it's media rights discussions in April after the AAC either renews its contract with ESPN or hits the open market where Fox, Comcast/NBC and AT&T can all make offers to the AAC. Ideally, the AAC sets the floor of the market for the Mountain West's own rights while the Pac 12 contract is the ceiling. Personally, I expect the AAC and the MW both to see an increase due to the escalating value of live sports media rights. Exactly how much and who is paying the MW and AAC after 2020 are the big deals. I haven't seen much about this topic yet. I presume this is a 'no news is good news' situation because both parties are talking to each other and very little is leaking. Once leaks start happening, we'll know that one side isn't happy with the progress of negotiations and that is far more likely to be the AAC side than the ESPN side. Also, the basis for the MW's TV value has a lot more to do with the value/quality of the Pac 12 than what the AAC is worth. It is a major mistake to think that the AAC/MW are competing for TV dollars in the same way that the two leagues compete for a New Year's Six bowl spot because the AAC's value to ESPN has a lot more to do with comparing that league to the ACC and the SEC rather than to the MW. Finally, I think ESPN has a particularly strong interest in obtaining the MW's exclusive rights because the Pac 12 Network is a competitor to ESPN and the MW is the only alternative with comparable inventory for Window 4 national broadcasts (east coast prime time) to the Pac 12, and because the MW hosts four bowl games at conference member stadiums (After 2020, Hawaii, San Diego, New Mexico and Boise are the likely sites to host bowl games along with games in Tempe and Tucson plus a Texas game - just a guess) .