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What is Conference USA doing with their TV revenue?

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A few days ago, Old Dominion athletic director Wood Selig appeared on ESPN Radio 94.1 for an interview and discussed the current CUSA TV rights news among other things. He made some interesting points I'll share if you didn't just click the link and listen.

Right off the bat, Selig is asked about the new deal with beIN Sports and skips right past it to talk about the deal with ESPN, which in and of itself gives you an indication of priorities. This is not terribly surprising, as ESPN is The Worldwide Leader, while beIN Sports is a niche sports channel that primarily broadcasts European Soccer leagues and motorcycle racing.

Selig also confuses a few things. He is right that content is distributed and received on an ever-changing basis, and that streaming is likely the wave of the future. That being said, ESPN3 and the WatchESPN service are not true streaming, in that you can't fully access them without a cable TV package that includes the ESPN family of networks (though it is free if you are on the Wifi network of a college campus).

The shift to streaming content hasn't really shifted viewers away from tuning into their TV box and searching their guide for the channel carrying their favorite college team's games. Not yet, anyways.

He was also unable to explain how the school could successfully communicate to their fans about how to find these game broadcasts. He is right that for a long time, fans whose games aren't on traditional networks have had to stay ahead of the curve in finding ways to watch their teams play. But they aren't your only demographic, which means this shift could mean lost viewership.

The full deal was announced today and will involve a very wide array of CUSA sports throughout the academic year, but only 10 football games.

Plain and simple, this is an opportunity to recoup lost revenue. CUSA is having to replace a deal that was spearheaded by almost half of their conference's games appearing on Fox Sports 1 with one that has, as of my most recent understanding, no more than a quarter of their games on any one network. When you have to replace your Snuggie with a hand-made quilt, it helps to start with as many squares of fabric as possible.

This is a network that likely tossed CUSA a nice hunk of cash as a means of trying anything and everything to keep themselves relevant. The network, which is an offshoot of Al Jazeera, was available in a number of households that was lower than every single cable network other than the Discovery Channel's Spanish-language networks as of February 2015, a number that is even a little lower as of most recent report. When you are almost non-existent in the US market and you need a way to change that, you find a way to at least start broadcasting the most relevant US sport there is.

It seems like a logical pairing - a network that was in need of a new content source to generate interest, and a conference that was in need of increased revenue via another broadcasting partner. But how much is it actually going to help either side?

The full details, at least for football, are that ESPN will get their pick of five games, after which CBS Sports Network will do the same. Then American Sports Network will choose somewhere between 15 and 20 games, followed finally by beIN Sports selecting somewhere between 5 and 10 games for broadcast.

Now you're still a couple problems shy of a solution. For one thing, You have four different networks broadcasting your football games and you still aren't going to have every game televised, as this math works out to a maximum of 77% of games being broadcast, and possibly less than that.

Additionally, three of the four networks you've partnered with aren't going to be accessible to your potential viewers if they don't have the right cable TV package. If you don't have some sort of expanded cable package, you aren't seeing anything but the five games ESPN puts on, and even then you'll have to sit at your computer to see them.

This is sort of that age-old question; if a football game happens in the woods, and nobody's there to hear it, did it make a noise? You've made more revenue in the form of preventing further loss of dollars, but in exchange you've watered down your brand across four different networks, some of which your viewers can't even afford.

They're now arguably on even footing with the Sun Belt Conference. The perennially lowest rated G5 conference might be only making a quarter of what CUSA is earning even in this newly gutted rights deal, but at least you know, without fail, that if their games are televised it will be on ESPN's family of networks.