Airing the debate: who should own the TV rights for games like Clemson-Furman?
CLEMSON — The Clemson-Furman game will be televised at 3 p.m. today (Fox Sports Carolinas). But the questions of who should own the broadcast rights to such a game — and what are lower-profile games worth to ACC programs — sparked debate and realignment rumors this spring.
Third-tier rights are broadcast rights to lower-profile games that are not controlled by a conference’s television rights package holder like ESPN. In the ACC, individual schools do not control the broadcast rights to any football games. In the Big 12, each school has the broadcast rights to one third-tier, non-conference football game per season. Other conferences also permit programs to sell a certain number of lower-level games.
The approach to third-tier rights — Who should own them? What are they worth? — led the Clemson and Florida State boards to investigate their value. While some programs, like Texas, have profited off of third-tier rights, they are the exception and not the norm, according to ACC associate commissioner Michael Kelly, who is familiar with the conference’s television negotiations.
Kelly said third-tier football games at most, if not all ACC schools would be minimally profitable, if at all, due to market size and other factors.
“If they made a profit it would be very slight and the distribution wouldn’t be anywhere near for this game what it is now,” Kelly said.
By bundling all football games with ESPN, ACC schools benefit, Kelly says. The agreement obligates ESPN to either broadcast ACC games or sell them to another company, like Fox Sports, allowing for greater distribution of games than if Clemson sold the rights to a more regional network.
“In the case with Clemson, the Furman game is going to be in (high-definition) on RSN and available in 32 million homes,” Kelly said. “I would maintain if they broadcast it on their own, would someone be willing to pay them a rights fee and agree to produce it at that quality and distribution? It would be hard for me to fathom that would happen.”
Critics have wondered if the ACC negotiated away third-tier football rights worth millions for programs like Florida State and Clemson.
Texas was able to bundle its third-tier football rights and other third-tier content into the Longhorn Network, a partnership with ESPN that is paying the program a reported $15 million per year.
But analysts note Texas is an outlier, a powerful brand in one of the country’s most populous states. Kansas State, also in the Big 12, has struggled to find broadcast partners to show its third-tier football games.
Clemson chief financial officer Katie Hill said Clemson, because of its market, does not have the ability to strike a lucrative, multi-million dollar deal for a third-tier television rights package.
Hill said the value of a Clemson-Furman type game might be more than Kelly’s estimates, but it is still marginal. Hill is more concerned with the impact televising such games has on ticket sales. “People are short-sighted not to think about gate sales,” Hill said.
Kelly said regardless of a conference’s approach to third-tier rights, not everyone will be happy.
“There once was a day before ESPN3, when there were a bunch of games that weren’t being (broadcast) and then the cry was ‘it’s embarrassing we can’t see all the games,’” Kelly said. “Now we get every game done and they think we can make a (great profit) off of it.”