Archive for October, 2012

It has been quite crazy in the real life of Frank the Tank over the past couple of weeks, so I apologize for the hiatus.  Let’s get right back into it:

(1) The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend: Fox Emerging as Top Competitor to ESPN Instead of Comcast (Because That’s How ESPN Wants It) – When I wrote this post on potential challengers to ESPN back in March, I was fairly skeptical of anyone being able to step up to create a full-fledged all-sports network competitor.  Unlike Fox News Channel and MSNBC, which were able to establish audiences to compete with CNN with internal programming decisions within their full control, new sports networks are largely dependent upon winning sports rights from third parties (which aren’t guaranteed).  To its credit, though, Fox has been able to assemble a broad array of what I called “tier one” properties since that time, such as cable rights for Major League Baseball (including postseason games) and NASCAR.  When combined with the Big 12, Pac-12 and soccer (e.g. future FIFA events such as the World Cup, English Premier League, etc.) rights that Fox already has in hand, the likely-to-be-formed “Fox Sports One” looks like a legitimate counterweight to ESPN.  Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. certainly has a lot of experience building empires based on sports properties with BSkyB in the United Kingdom breaking through after the purchase of English Premier League rights and over-the-air Fox doing the same after winning NFL games here in the United States.  (If you were around in the early-1990s, there were legitimate concerns and tons of late night talk show fodder about whether enough people would be able to find the Fox network.  Within a couple of years of having NFL games, though, Fox established itself as every bit as powerful of a network as ABC, CBS and NBC.)  It looks like he’ll finally have a cable sports network in the US that will have access to top properties during the entire calendar year.

In contrast, it appears that Comcast has very few options left for its NBC Sports Network.  For all of the bluster from Comcast that it was looking to invest heavily in NBCSN, it has ended up losing out on every competitive bidding situation for sports rights over the past 2 years with the exception of retaining the NHL and Olympics rights that it already had.  The other properties that NBCSN has added during that time frame are generally low value, such as MLS soccer, Formula One racing and Atlantic 10 basketball.  Comcast may no longer have much incentive to spend significantly on NBCSN since there is literally nothing else of value available over the next few years outside of the Big East rights (which we’ll address separately in a moment).  As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised to see NBCSN go more toward the CBS Sports Network route of trying to keep costs down while providing an overflow outlet for the main over-the-air NBC Sports operation.

What’s interesting here is that ESPN effectively picked the winner between News Corp. and Comcast when it chose to work with Fox in winning the Pac-12 rights against NBC last year.  Once that occurred, it established (or maybe just reflected) a fascinating bond between Disney (ESPN) and News Corp. (Fox) along with Time Warner/Turner (TBS/TNT): no matter how much they might have hated each other, they all hated Comcast even more and showed that they would rather work together to squash NBCSN than let the fledgling network gain any traction.  ESPN and Fox have partnered on the new Big 12 TV deal, while Turner is going to pay twice as much as it does now for MLB rights for half as many games (with virtually all of the games that they’re losing heading over to Fox).  From the perspective of these media companies, it makes complete sense.  Comcast is the largest source of subscriber fees for all of the top cable networks, which means that a Comcast-owned sports network that has enough top tier properties to be used as leverage in carriage fees negotiations is much more dangerous for ESPN, Fox and Turner than any other potential competitor.  So, for ESPN, it was much better for them to allow Fox to rise up as its primary competition than Comcast/NBC.  It’s a classic “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” situation.

The Big East is sitting back seeing this dance unfold.  A few months ago, many sports media industry observers thought that it was a foregone conclusion that the Big East’s new TV contract would end up with Comcast/NBC.  Now, the view seems to have shifted to where a number of people are betting on an ESPN/Fox combo for the Big East (similar to what they have in place with the Pac-12 and Big 12).  What’s hard to tell is whether this is going to end up working out financially well for the Big East since, whether or not they ultimately sign a contract with any particular media entity, they need all three of ESPN, Fox and Comcast/NBC (plus CBS for basketball) to be legitimately interested in the conference’s rights to drive up the price.  If ESPN and Fox are working together while Comcast/NBC decides that it’s going to take a low cost approach, then the Big East may not receive the payday that many of the league’s fans are hoping for.  Therefore, the Big East had better hope that Comcast/NBC is willing to legitimately pay up to compete with ESPN and Fox and not just sell the availability of “exposure” with open Saturday time slots that ESPN can’t offer.  The fact that Comcast/NBC wasn’t willing to do that with MLB rights is a negative sign, but as always, we’ll find out whether that will be the case here soon enough.

(2) BlogPoll Ballot

I seriously don’t try to win the Jim Tressel’s Numb Existence Award every week, but I’m on top of the list again despite my love for Toledo.

(3) College Football Parlay Picks (odds from Yahoo! and home teams in CAPS)

Indiana (+1) over ILLINOIS – I don’t care how bad Indiana might be (and believe me, they’re awful) – Illinois should not be giving points to any team.  Look, I’ve had some prolonged rough stretches as an Illini fan.  During my first three years of college in Champaign, the Illinois football team amassed a 5-28 record (including a winless season in 1997).  When Illinois finally won a game in 1998, fans rushed the field even though that win was against the mighty Middle Tennessee State.  2003 through 2006 featured an 8-38 stretch, which was mitigated a little bit by some glory years for the Illini basketball team.  However, I’m not exaggerating here when I say that this is the most dejected that I’ve ever seen the Illini football fan base.  At least with Ron Zook, there was the inkling of hope that his legendary recruiting ability would eventually turn things around.  Plus, I think we’ll eventually remember the Zook years as being “funny bad”.  Between the asinine 2-point conversion attempts in the first quarter, rugby punts and water skiing without water skis, Zook at least sucked with some style.  (Other examples of “funny bad”: “Evil Dead 2″, the “Cheaters” TV show, and the Henry Burris stint as quarterback for the Bears.)

The Illini team under Tim Beckman, on the other hand, has been completely listless since the loss to Louisiana Tech in week 4.  To use a sports cliche, it’s not that the Illini are losing per se that bothers me, but rather how they are losing.  Several other top Illini boosters are bothered by it, as well, and have made it known publicly that they aren’t happy at all with Beckman or Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas.  Granted, it’s tough to fire any new head coach after only one season (compounded by the fact that the Illinois athletic department is still paying buyouts to both Ron Zook and Bruce Weber at the same time), but we’re getting dangerously close to the point where fan anger turns to fan apathy, which is the worst thing that can happen to a program that can’t count on 100,000 people showing up every week no matter what like Ohio State and Michigan.  For practical purposes, I’m resigned to the fact that Beckman will almost certainly get another year (if only because Thomas would be admitting he made a major mistake in the hiring by axing Beckman so quickly), yet Illinois might be trading a short-term contract buyout issue for a legitimately long-term setback once again.

Cincinnati (+4) over LOUISVILLE – Even though Cincinnati lost a trap road game to Toledo last week, I believe that the real fight in the Big East will eventually come down to between the Bearcats and Rutgers.  Louisville has already had multiple close escapes with a very weak schedule, so the Cardinals’ undefeated record and #16 ranking are paper thin in my eyes.  (The sharps in Las Vegas apparently agree with me since this line has been dropping with money heading towards Cincinnati all week.)

Michigan (+2.5) over NEBRASKA – This ought to be a fun atmosphere in Lincoln with Michigan coming to town, but my feeling is that the Wolverines will end up running the table for the rest of the year to get to the Rose Bowl.

(4) NFL Parlay Picks (odds from Yahoo! and home teams in CAPS)

BEARS (-8) over Panthers – An organization in a tailspin versus the NFL’s best defense isn’t a great combo for Cam Newton and Ron Rivera.  Granted, I’m concerned about Jay Cutler’s bruised ribs (as his passes were nowhere near as crisp in the 2nd half against the Lions on Monday Night as they were in the 1st half), but the Bears have definitely taken care of business against all of the teams that they were supposed to beat so far this season.  Lovie Smith has had this team completely focused game-to-game.

LIONS (-1) over Seahawks – As stifling as the Bears defense might be, the Lions were actually able to move the ball fairly well down field in the 2nd half and it took multiple disastrous red zone turnovers by Detroit for Chicago to come away with the win.  I have no idea why Matthew Stafford seems to miss on half of his throws toward Calvin Johnson with Megatron being such a massive target, but those two connecting consistently is much more likely at home against Seattle than it was on the road against Chicago.

Falcons (+2) over EAGLES – I know that Atlanta has to eventually lose, but I don’t feel that it’s going to come against an underachieving .500 squad in the middle of Philly fan calls for the scalps of Michael Vick and Andy Reid.

(5) Classic Music Video of the Week: “No Sex in the Champagne Room” by Chris Rock

In honor of Tom Fornelli starting up The Champaign Room at SBNation to cover the Fighting Illini (the logo is even better than the name), here’s a memorable ditty from Chris Rock:

Enjoy the World Series and the rest of your week!

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)

About these ads

You just knew that one of either Tony Romo or Jay Cutler was going to have a sub-zero passer rating game on Monday night, right?  It was preordained with a prime time game featuring the two erratic quarterbacks.  Fortunately for the Bears, Bad Romo showed up that even more gloriously led to a nostalgic appearance by the Neckbeard.  Let’s get onto some other news:

(1) Beastly Big East Expansion – I didn’t get to write about this at all last week, but the Big East reportedly has been looking at BYU and Air Force for its 14th football member (and might even add those 2 plus Army to have a 16-team football league).  If the Big East can pull off that trifecta, that’s effectively the best that the conference could realistically do considering the circumstances.  However, I continue to have doubts about the viability of a BYU candidacy for the Big East because of that school’s very different leadership structure and goals compared to any other FBS school.  Indeed, Brett McMurphy, in his report linked above, said, “BYU was close to joining the Big East last November, until the deal blew up essentially at the last minute when the Cougars refused to relinquish their home television rights.”  That’s such a basic fundamental issue that I find it difficult to believe that it could have possibly only been brought up at the last minute unless a group far above the athletic director’s pay grade (AKA the actual leadership of the LDS Church) purposefully lobbed in a grenade to tank the negotiations.  My understanding from BYU people has always been that TV exposure trumps TV money by a wide margin to LDS leadership, which means that they aren’t going to be persuaded by merely a larger check from a share of Big East TV rights versus the guaranteed widespread exposure that the school receives now in its ESPN contract.  Plus, BYU has effectively stated previously that Comcast’s dealings with the Mountain West were the biggest reason why the school turned independent in the first place, so it will be an extremely tough sell for the Big East to pitch the value of any potential NBC/Comcast deal to the Cougars no matter how much it might pay.  The Big East’s largest selling point to BYU would be that the access to the new 7th top tier bowl discussed here last week may only be open to the champions of the “Gang of Five” conferences (the Big East, Mountain West, Conference USA, Sun Belt and MAC), which means that the school’s ability to make it into the new BCS (or whatever it will be called) system will solely be via a handful of access bowl slots determined by a selection committee.  Essentially, Big East commissioner Mike Aresco has to convince the LDS Church (NOT the BYU athletic department, which seems to be much more open to conference membership) that the exposure gained from having access to this new 7th bowl trumps the week-to-week exposure that the school is receiving from its current TV deals.  I think the chances of BYU joining the Big East are better than they were two weeks ago, but still nowhere near a foregone conclusion.  Hence, the hedging comment in the McMurphy piece that the Big East is “divided over whether to pursue Air Force or BYU.”  It’s very clear that BYU is the superior option, but the Big East needs to make it look like that it chose Air Force (instead of getting rejected by BYU) if it ends up adding the Falcons.  (“You didn’t reject us!  We rejected you!”)

As you can see, I believe that Air Force is a much more realistic addition to the Big East compared to BYU.  Things have changed greatly for Air Force since it rejected the Big East’s overtures 1 year ago, particularly the fact that the Big East decided to raid Air Force’s home of the Mountain West of Boise State and San Diego State.  Navy has also committed to join the Big East for football since that time, so that gives the Air Force a service academy rival to potentially enter the league with.  In contrast, nothing has really changed for BYU other than potentially the bowl situation.  As a result, if I were a betting man, Air Force is going to end up as Big East football school #14.

On another note, Big East Coast Bias points out that the new Atlantic 10 TV contract shows why the Catholic members of the Big East aren’t going to be splitting off to create a CYO basketball league.  In this era of skyrocketing sports rights contracts, the Atlantic 10 is going to be receiving $40 million over the course of 8 years.  That translates into $5 million per year to be split among 14 members, which amounts to an average of a little more than $350,000 per year per school.  This has to be a scary figure for the schools that solely depend upon basketball revenue.  Granted, I believe that a CYO basketball league made up of the current Big East Catholic schools plus a handful of others (e.g. St. Louis University, Xavier, Dayton) would command a better TV contract than what the Atlantic 10 is receiving, but this new deal effectively ensures that those Big East members won’t even take the chance of a split.  As I noted last year, splitting up the Big East would be as misguided as the maligned and eventually overturned decision to split up Netflix and this is more evidence of that being the case.

(2) DePaul Arena Dreaming – Speaking of the Big East and on a more personal note, the notion of DePaul basketball returning to the Chicago city limits is finally gaining steam.  DePaul is looking at either moving home games to the United Center or partnering with the city and Mayor Rahm Emanuel to build a new arena near McCormick Place.  I have been arguing that DePaul basketball ought to move to the United Center at a minimum ever since I started this blog (see this post about DePaul’s very first Big East game, which happened to be against Notre Dame, complete with an outdated reference to the now-defunct Demon Dogs), so it’s been a long time coming.  Personally, I like the McCormick Place proposal even more since the funding appears to be available, Rahm seems to want to get it done (meaning that it’s much more than a pipe dream) and it would be an arena whose primary tenant is DePaul (compared to the United Center, where the order of precedence is (1) Ringling Bros. Circus, (2) Disney on Ice, (3) Bulls, (4) Blackhawks and (5) everything else).  A new CTA Green Line Station at Cermak Road to serve McCormick Place is being built, which means that even though the arena isn’t necessarily close to Lincoln Park, it would be easily accessible by public transportation for students on the North Side and even easier for people based at DePaul’s expanding South Loop campus.  There is also plenty of parking structures already in place for people that want to drive.  It’s not as desirable as having a Lincoln Park location, but considering the practical issues of cost and transportation, this is the most viable option for a DePaul arena within the city limits that we have ever seen.

Also, I can see Rahm’s reasoning for pushing this plan from an urban planning perspective.  As someone that lived in Chinatown for a time (which is one mile directly west of McCormick Place straight down Cermak Road), there’s definitely a major gap in commercial development (or at least conventioneer/tourist-friendly commercial development) in the blocks between the Chinatown Red Line station and the convention center complex.  Considering that McCormick Place is arguably the largest single draw for business visitors to Chicago (who have expense accounts to spend), there is decidedly very little in the way of restaurants and bars in that area.  A new arena can be a catalyst for more development in a spot that definitely needs it along with connecting the McCormick Place area to the more developed Chinatown to the west and the rest of the South Loop that is already gentrified to the north.  Granted, there have been plenty of DePaul arena options that have fallen through over the years, so we’ll proceed with cautious optimism here.

(3) BlogPoll Ballot

My main disagreements with the overall poll is that I believe that LSU, Notre Dame (out of all teams) and Northwestern are underrated, while the winner of the Georgia-South Carolina game this weekend is going to end up overrated.  Also, I will continue to bring the love for Louisiana Tech as long as they keep winning.  That’s a legit BCS buster.

(4) College Football Parlay Picks (odds from Yahoo! and home teams in CAPS)

WISCONSIN (-14) over Illinois – I’m counting down the days to basketball season at this point.  It’s getting ugly for the Illini.

Miami (+14) over Notre Dame (game at Soldier Field in Chicago) – Despite my belief that Notre Dame is actually underrated in the polls at this point, I don’t think that I’ve agreed with a single Vegas line for the Irish all year.  Miami isn’t nearly the pushover that it looked like they could have been after getting waxed by Kansas State.

Georgia (+1) over SOUTH CAROLINA – I think both of these teams are a bit overrated from the glow of the top of the SEC, but I have more faith in Georgia this year.

(5) NFL Parlay Picks (odds from Yahoo! and home teams in CAPS)

RAMS (+2.5) over Cardinals – Arizona is worse than their record and, as I said last week, St. Louis is better than their record.

REDSKINS (+3) over Falcons – I don’t quite know what to make of the Redskins so far this season, but RGIII certainly makes them interesting.

JAGUARS (+5) over Bears – The Bears should be winning this game, but this is the type of matchup that always puts us fans on edge.  We were at least able to count on Bad Romo rearing his head this past Monday night.

(6) Classic Music Video of the Week – “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake

If the Mo Money Mo Problems video was a late-1990s time capsule, then this classic from Whitesnake is everything that a late-1980s trash rock video should feature: lots of hair, lots of guitars, and lots of a pre-husband abuse/Celebrity Rehab Tawny Kitaen.  Of course, this song is also a favorite of my namesake Frank the Tank.

Enjoy the games!

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)