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CAA enters $4.5 million media deal, but will College of Charleston fans pay to watch games?

CAA championship26.jpg

College of Charleston celebrates during its CAA Men's Basketball Tournament Championship in 2018 at the North Charleston Coliseum. Andrew J.Whitaker/Staff

In the scheme of things, the deal that the Colonial Athletic Association signed with FloSports earlier in the week would barely be a blip on the radar when it comes to collegiate media rights contracts.

Over the next four years, FloSports, a digital sports media company, will pay the CAA about $4.5 million to broadcast 300 of the league’s sporting events, including football, men’s and women's basketball games.

In comparison, the SEC signed a 15-year, $2 billion deal with ESPN in 2008, and the ACC will launch its own national network in August.

But for mid-major conferences like the CAA, which are trying to generate revenue from selling their league rights and get as much exposure as possible, the choices are limited. It’s one of the main reasons that the deal with FloSports became so attractive for CAA commissioner Joe D’Antonio.

The agreement marks a pivotal moment for both parties as the CAA becomes the first college conference to select a streaming OTT, direct-to-consumer company, as their primary media partner. In addition, the CAA becomes the first comprehensive college conference to partner with FloSports.

“I think signing the deal shows progressive thinking on behalf of our institutions and our athletic directors,” D’Antonio said. “We think this is a great opportunity to get in on the ground level with a great partner. It’s a really big deal for everyone involved.”

The CAA becomes the seventh collegiate entity to enter into a multi-sport partnership with FloSports. FloSports already has deals with teams from the Big Ten, Big 12, MEAC and Mountain West.

More than 300 games will air annually across the FloSports network beginning in the 2019-20 season. The agreement calls for approximately 50 football games, 90 men's basketball games and 50 women's basketball contests, and an additional 110 events, including the majority of conference championships to air on the network each year.

It was the flexibility of the contract that made the deal a no-brainer for D’Antonio and the rest of the league. While the majority of the league games will be behind a pay wall on FloSports, each school can still broadcast games with their existing regional television partners. Schools like Northeastern, which has a regional cable deal, would not have to give up those games with FloSports. College of Charleston, which in the past has had men’s basketball games on MyTV Charleston, could continue to air games.

"FloSports was willing to be flexible,” D’Antonio said. “FloSports believes that the CAA has a strong value to them, and when you are dealing with 17 institutions, each one has different wants and needs. It was clear that those institutions wanted their needs protected, and that’s why we wanted the flexibility in the deal that we had. It allows our member institutions to continue to have partnership with regional partners and maintain those relationships and allows us to still have content on our CAA TV.”

The conference will also use the revenue from FloSports to buy more games on CBS Sports Network. Instead of each school receiving between $50,000 and $75,0000 a year, the conference decided to invest that money to broadcast men’s basketball games on a national level with CBS Sports Network. The CAA will have eight nationally televised games on CBS Sports Network during the 2019-2020 season.

“We made the strategic decision that we wanted to enhance the CAA’s basketball brand,” College of Charleston athletic director Matt Roberts. “So instead of each institution taking a small part of that money, we made the intentional effort to reinvest that money into other broadcast opportunities.”

The number of games on CBS Sports Network could increase to as many as 16 CAA games per season over the next few years.

”Before this deal, we had no nationally-televised home CAA games,” Roberts said. “The only national games we had were the semifinals and finals from the tournament.”

The contract with FloSports will also allow teams to generate revenue from advertising and sponsorships during the broadcasts. That wasn’t available under a deal with other companies, including ESPN.

“You basically sign everything away when you go with ESPN,” Roberts said. “They tie up all your sponsorship rights and your flexibility to go out and produce your own content on any linear or web-based platform. And we can generate revenue off of our own broadcasts. You still have to pay to watch games on ESPN Plus.”

Roberts anticipates some pushback from fans who are not used to paying for content.

“It’s a change, and change is sometime difficult,” Roberts said. “Not every game will be behind a pay wall. For us, it was a chance to give our conference the exposure it deserves. We feel we need to continue to move forward to being a multi-unit league and to help our basketball brand get up to where it needs to be on a national stage.”

Most schools will offer season ticket holders an opportunity to buy FloSports for a 50 percent discount. The normal monthly rate for FloSports is about $25.

“We’ve reach the point right, wrong or indifferent, where the younger demographic of the country consumes their media in a digital fashion, “D’Antonio said. “But there’s still a place for linear television. With this deal, we get both. We still have a digital presence. We have content behind a pay wall. We have free content in FloSports that will tell the story of the conference that no one is doing right now and we still have a strong digital presence with CAA TV.”

Roberts said he anticipates more conferences to sign on with FloSports in the future.

“It’s a positive - there wasn’t a risk for us,” Roberts said. “The only negative is the perception that games are behind the paywall, but more and more games and more conferences are going to that format. Every major conference has that or will have that in the near future. The ACC is on ESPN Plus. For a conference at our level, this is the most profitable deal and easily the most flexible deal for us in retaining our sponsorship and distribution rights. We went from almost no exposure on a national level to having national and international exposure. That’s a good deal in my mind.”

CAA fans will have the ability to access live and on-demand coverage on a monthly or annual PRO subscriber. Either subscription unlocks access to premium content across the entire FloSports network and fans can watch across all screens by downloading the FloSports app on iOS, Roku, or Apple TV 4.

Reach Andrew Miller at 843-937-5599. Follow him on Twitter @APMILLER_PandC

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