CSVS Q&A: Keynoter Bevilacqua Considers College-Sports Content Undervalued

By Carolyn Braff

In anticipation of the inaugural College Sports Video Summit (CSVS) to be held June 9-10 in Atlanta, the Sports Video Group has assembled a seasoned advisory committee that includes some of the game-changers in the business and technology behind college-sports broadcasting. Each week leading up to the event, College Sports Video Insider will feature an interview with a different member of the College Sports Video Summit Advisory Committee. This week, keynote speaker Chris Bevilacqua, chairman/CEO of CAA Sports Media Ventures and founder of CSTV, discusses the growth opportunities for college sports, the value of the college market, and the need for CSVS to educate and inform the industry.

In looking at the college-sports–media landscape, how do you compare today’s climate with that when you founded CSTV in 1999?

College sports is still incredibly undervalued in the landscape of media at every level, from broadcast to cable to digital. There is a variety of reasons for that, but it’s a lot of what was the underpinning for the creation of CSTV in the first place. Looking at college sports next to pro sports, Division I has about 800 or so football games and about 3,000 basketball games each year. If you don’t include the NCAA tournament, they get about $700 million a year from rights fees. The NFL has one 18-game package, and they get $1.2 billion for that, so it’s way out of whack.

If you look at the value per viewer, comparing college to pro, the disparity is eye-opening. The key is figuring out a way for the industry as a whole to close that gap.

To what do you attribute that disparity?

Unlike pro leagues, which have a very tightly controlled distribution of programming, colleges split themselves up, and I think that’s created a lot of haves and have-nots in college. A lot of value and leverage in the market is closely tied to size and mass. Breaking apart into conferences in a fragmented distribution world, I argue, has actually lessened teams’ value.

The question is, how do you put some of that together so that you can create real scale and therefore have your intellectual property more aligned with the marketplace? That’s not an easy thing to do, because there’s all sorts of different constituencies with different agendas, and then there’s a risk equation to it. The pro guys can afford to take a lot of risk; the college guys can’t necessarily afford to take that risk, so they need risk partners.

There are some philosophical and ideological gaps here. Does the Big Ten want to bundle its rights together with the Pac-10? It stands to reason that, if you bundle 21 member institutions together, you’d have far more power and value than if you were 11 and 10 separate and apart. There are institutional issues in the way these things are packaged and bought and sold that carry a lot of legacy and ideological differences outside of athletics, really more in the industry of higher education than on the side of college sports.

It takes a lot to navigate the landscape, but I think the basic premise going forward is that there’s a lot of upside, but there needs to be a different approach to the market if they really want to unlock the value.

How can educational events like CSVS help schools unlock that value?

I think people need to get educated and informed because it’s a very complicated environment right now. There are more forms of distribution than ever before, and in many cases, there are actually fewer buyers because the media and distribution industry have consolidated, so you have the power of distribution in fewer hands. The industry as a whole needs to be better educated and informed on how content is being bought and sold by these consolidated media companies, because there is room to offer them more value but at the same time create more value for themselves. There needs to be a better alignment of that, and I think that all starts with informing and educating.

What I think is ultimately going to galvanize the industry is if you can get presidents, commissioners, heads of media companies [to CSVS], because that’s where all of the risk and the strategic piece take place, at the higher level. When you start talking about how do you as an industry work more creatively to unlock value, that’s got to come from the very top — presidents of the universities, leaders of NCAA, people that are buying and selling the content.

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