ESPN Hikes Four-Year Bowl Championship Series Pact

ESPN on Tuesday confirmed that it has reached a deal with the Bowl Championship Series, committing to a four-year deal to carry the Fiesta, Orange and Sugar Bowl games from 2011 to 2014, while gaining the rights to the BCS national championship capper for three seasons, beginning with the 2011 title game.

The deal comes just one day after Fox Sports announced that it would not try to match ESPN’s bid, which sources say is valued at $500 million.

While the move to cable will disenfranchise fans in the 17 million U.S. households not plugged in to a pay-TV service, BCS coordinator and ACC Commissioner John Swofford noted that the gap is narrowing. “ESPN is available in 98 million homes and in January 2011 that number will be even larger,” Swofford said. “You’re talking about a situation where we’re seeing more and more sporting events go to cable. And certainly…people who truly follow college football are extremely well tuned in to ESPN and see ESPN as…the home of college football.”
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but sources said that ESPN’s out-bid Fox by some $100 million. The broadcaster’s current $300 million deal expires when the final whistle blows on the 2010 BCS Championship game.

ESPN’s continued investment in big-ticket college football won’t necessarily precipitate an increase in its carriage fees, which lead the industry at around $4 per sub. “No surcharge will be passed on to any distributors for this product,” said George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports.

Although the cable schedule has been locked in through 2014, no decision has been made as to the long-term fate of the Rose Bowl, which has a pre-existing contract with ABC. “The Rose Bowl will remain on ABC through 2010, but we have not determined the scheduling beyond that,” Bodenheimer said. “We are still evaluating our options.”
The deal does give the ESPN family an undeniable monopoly over the post-season college football universe, as the network and its broadcast sibling ABC are now on track to carry 30 of the 34 televised bowl games. Of the remaining New Year’s Eve/Day games, the Sun and Gator Bowls are televised by CBS, while NFL Network is scheduled to carry the 2008 Texas and Insight Bowls, which take place on the 30th and 31st of December, respectively.

Moving the BCS title game to ESPN seems to all but preclude a playoff system, which many fans have been calling for since the revised selection process was first introduced by the NCAA back in 1998. The night before he was elected the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama told ESPN’s Chris Berman that he supported an eight-team playoff to determine the national championship.
This afternoon, Swofford gently dismissed the call for a playoff system, saying that after conducting a number of meetings on the subject this spring, “it became evident that there was not enough support to change the current format.”
In other words, don’t expect a playoff format to be implemented before 2014, if ever.

“Our anticipation that [the present BCS system] would go through the next cycle of the television contract,” Swofford said.