On Monday, the American Athletic Conference was officially born. To celebrate its new television property, ESPN deleted the blog dedicated to the conference.
Not exactly the best way to start a relationship.
At face value, deleting the blog seems extremely minor. It may return. It wasn’t that great of a blog anyway. Life moves on.
But this is ESPN we’re talking about. ESPN hates the Big East. Or hated. Why does it hate the American?
For the upcoming college football season, the American still has an automatic bid to one of the BCS bowls. It is a major conference for one more year. Whether or not that is deserved is another matter entirely. The fact remains that the winner of the American in 2013 will play in the Sugar, Orange or Fiesta Bowl.
ESPN does not care.
When the Big East disintegrated, it made sense that ESPN would do everything in its power to hasten its destruction. Once the Big East turned down ESPN’s initial TV deal, it began a zero-sum game. Either the Big East went away or ESPN was going to face competition.
ESPN does not like competition.
If the Big East never fell apart, if Pitt, Syracuse, Louisville and Rutgers were hanging around, if the basketball schools never left, ESPN would’ve lost the conference. They knew this. Everyone knew this. Comcast, with its glistening new NBC Sports Network, would have thrown any amount of money to fill up its fall Saturdays with college football and its winter weeknights and weekends with college basketball.
ESPN does not like NBC.
When the Pac-12’s media rights were up for bid, ESPN did something it rarely does – got in bed with a competitor – and teamed up with Fox to prevent the Pac-12 from going to NBC. It is of course delicious irony that Fox is now using that deal as part of its full-out assault against ESPN in the form of Fox Sports 1.
ESPN does not like delicious irony.
With the Big East crumbling, Fox Sports swooped in and paid “blood money” to create the “new” Big East. Fox knew the Big East football was now worthless. If it were not trying to launch a new network, the basketball schools would have meant nothing to Fox. But starved for winter content, they wildly overpaid for some mediocre basketball to kill some airtime*
*It has to be said – the “new” Big East is a crappy basketball conference. The basketball purists are so in love with the idea of a basketball-centric league in a football-dominated world that they have fooled themselves. The next national title the conference wins will be the first by a team in the league in 30 years. Georgetown traded perennial #1 seeds (Louisville, Pitt, Syracuse & UConn) for a bunch of perennial #9 seeds (Creighton, Xavier & Butler). But I digress….
So the American Athletic Conference is now a thing and ESPN now has its TV rights. You would think that ESPN would want to promote the heck out of its new toy, right? Wrong.
ESPN does not like trying to make money.
You see, ESPN makes money hand over fist in 2013 merely by existing. Every cable subscriber in the country is paying them $5 per month whether they are watching ESPN or not. ESPN has become so ingrained in our collective consciousness that idiots like me still watch SportsCenter even though it has become unwatchable. ESPN knows this.
What made ESPN so much fun 20 years ago was the effort they put forth in promoting sports they didn’t get the love otherwise. NASCAR’s growth mirrored ESPN’s. College basketball and college football grew because ESPN showed more games at more times to more people. The NHL’s initial resurgence in the mid-90s was due in large part to ESPN, more specifically ESPN2, giving them an outlet and a nightly show. And man, do I miss NHL 2night.
But along the way, ESPN became too big. ESPN has a business model that is simultaneously broken and working to perfection. Why waste time promoting the American when you can blabber endlessly about the NFL, LeBron, or Tebow and print money?
There is simply no room for the American to get its proper due on ESPN because ESPN does not care. The success or lack thereof of the American Athletic Conference will have absolutely zero effect on its bottom line. They are investing next to nothing, especially when compared to the billions they're paying the NFL. Or the hundreds of millions to the NBA, MLB and the SEC.
For fans of teams in the American – like this delusional UConn football fan with a blog – there is no hope. I don’t mean that in a joking manner. There is absolutely no hope.
And why would there be? There is no motivation for ESPN to make the American successful. If the conference starts winning and people start watching, it just means ESPN will eventually have to pay the conference more money.
ESPN actively tried to destroy the Big East. They merely want the American to peter out slowly.
I have tried very, very hard to get behind UConn’s move to this new conference. There was even a glimmer of hope when Comcast swooped in with a decent – but by no means great – deal for its television rights late in the game.
That was the American’s only hope. NBC proved with the NHL that its cable sports network is still in the business of building up and promoting leagues. They are currently in a full-out promotion blast to pump up the English Premier League, and by proxy Major League Soccer. It aired the Grand Prix of Monaco on NBC proper Memorial Day Weekend and has provided excellent Formula 1 coverage, to the point they aired the excellent British Grand Prix on CNBC since the Tour de France was occupying NBCSN.
NBC would have invested in the American Athletic Conference. ESPN will not.
And ultimately, that is why the conference will fail. Television runs the show. Mike Aresco can talk all he wants about winning – it doesn’t matter. ESPN, even moreso now that it has locked up the future College Football Playoff, is running college football. The American is not at the big boy table now. And it will never be invited.
As a UConn fan, the name has changed but the song remains the same. I get annoyed by the lack of respect. I tire of the constant mockery. I thoroughly enjoy the victories. I feel depressed about the current state of affairs. I bitch and moan on my blog.
The American Athletic Conference has been alive for one day. The clock is already ticking for its demise.
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PS – Does anyone have Jim Delany’s number? The number I have seems to be out of service.