Editor Note: Early Entrants is a series of sports business “rumblings” before the news breaks.
Big East Going to Add a 12th Member
The Big East Conference officially added its 11th member – welcoming back the University of Connecticut – in a press conference last Thursday. Commissioner Val Ackerman told the media that “there are no plans at this time to add a 12th member school”, but sources tell JohnWallStreet that “at this time” are the words to focus on in that phrase; that it’s inevitable. The conference inked a media rights agreement beyond fair market value in ’13 (the timing was right as it aligned with the launch of FS1 which needed marquee programming) and likely needs to grow to 12 schools to secure an increase when the deal expires following the ’24-’25 school year.
Wondering who the conference might add? The Big East is made up of of predominantly private, academically strong (see: Georgetown, Villanova), Catholic universities that don’t play football; all of whom are based in (or near) major media markets within the Eastern or Central time zone. While this is purely speculation, the St. Louis Billikens – currently of the Atlantic 10 Conference – fit that description and would be hard pressed not to accept a bid if one were presented. If the Big East would consider public universities (outside of UCONN), VCU would have to be at the top of the list.
Sinclair Plans to Introduce a Global OTT Service for The Tennis Channel
Much like ‘new Fox’, Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBGI) has tied their wagon to local news and live sports programming; in addition to buying the 21 FOX RSNs, the company has made investments in both YES Network and Marquee Sports Network (they also own Fox College Sports and Stadium). While those networks (and the rights they control) are all domestic in nature and linear focused (save Stadium), the company is said to have global ambitions for another one of its sports properties; The Tennis Channel. Sources tell JohnWallStreet that SGBI will introduce an OTT service – powered by Sportradar – incremental to local linear broadcasters in respective markets. Look for the company to start buying up global broadcast rights – particularly for tournaments where they have an inside line (see: Laver Cup).
Kwatinetz/IceCube Ready to Pounce “When Sinclair Fails to Receive Approval”
With three U.S. Senators (and Presidential hopefuls) urging the FCC and Justice Department to review Sinclair’s (SBGI) purchase of the 21 FOX RSNs – there are concerns about giving SBGI too much leverage in carriage negotiations and about the company being able to spread their “partisan political” agenda to a wider audience – it is certainly possible that Disney will be forced to re-open the bidding process. If that happens, runners-up Jeff Kwatinetz and IceCube will be ready to pounce. Kwatinetz told JWS that the funding is there and his group remains “committed to acquiring the networks when Sinclair fails to receive approval.” Should The BIG3 co-founders take control over the RSNs, viewers can expect a dramatic change in programming philosophy. Kwatinetz said, “in the morning we would have a program designed to compete with the TODAY Show. There would be a lot of national programming. We would run it as a national network.”
Puma the Front-Runner for Zion?
NPD Group analyst Matt Powell recently told Yahoo! Finance that he was “betting that a Chinese brand” would ink Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson to his first shoe contract. Many others have speculated that Williamson will ultimately end up with Nike after the #1 overall selection in the 2019 NBA draft wore the swoosh to several high-profile workouts and appearances, but sources tell JohnWallStreet that it was Puma who “very close to signing Zion” before the top selection got hit with a $100 million lawsuit on the eve of the draft. It’s unclear if the German footwear provider will be able to retain its position as the front-runner while the lawsuit works its way through the legal system – it seems unlikely the high-profile rookie would make an eight or nine figure decision without representation.
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