Yesterday ESPN announced they had reached an agreement with Kansas University to broadcast a select number of third-tier Jayhawk games online through their streaming service ESPN3. This included one regular season football game, the spring game, six men’s basketball games and a variety of non-revenue sports.
On the surface, this seems inconsequential. How much is one Kansas football game going to change anything especially in the world where the Longhorn Network has been such a debacle?
Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples had a really good take on why this little deal for digital content matters. Here is one of the relevant parts, but you should really read the full thing:
Schools tore up the conference landscape for the past three years because of cable television. Thirty years ago, that would have seemed laughable. Remember the yawn over a web deal? In 1983, announcing an exclusive cable deal would have drawn much the same reaction. Now, college football's title game and Monday Night Football are on cable. Technology has moved even faster in the smartphone age. What seemed impossible five years ago is quite possible today. So when these current conference media rights deals expire in the 2020s, new bidders such as Google, Apple or Netflix could send everyone scrambling again.
Staples goes on discuss how bloated and inefficient the current system for cable television is, a problem even the federal government is starting to consider a solution to. If you’re reading this, I would guess you don’t mind paying for ESPN, but there are millions of people who have cable and don’t care for sports who are paying almost five bucks a month just for the World Wide Leader. If a la carte pricing is allowed or every network starts charging for its own streaming service (meaning you wouldn't even need cable or satellite to watch your favorite shows live), you could only choose to purchase the channels you wanted. Depending on pricing, this could be great for the consumer, who wouldn't have to support dozens of channels that never even consider watching.
Who would this affect? Well, it might not be great for the Big Ten Network, which diluted its brand by adding Rutgers and Maryland in an attempt to place itself on every cable package in the New York City and DC-Baltimore metro areas. If people are forced to pay for the Big Ten Network as part of their standard cable bundle, dollars will keep rolling in. However, if in five years it’s only Big Ten alumni in the area shelling out? That revenue probably drops considerably.
In the short term, this is just a nice way for Kansas fans to get to watch way more of their Jayhawks while the athletics department makes a few extra bucks. But in the long term, this could be a move that helps get the ball rolling on us some day watching the SEC Championship streamed via Amazon Prime on our hologram projectors.