Four years ago ESPN increased its annual payment to the ACC to $240 million as part of an attempt to make it the greatest basketball conference in history, and prevent Fox Sports from getting off the ground with a basketball lineup of the Big East to its lineup of the Big 12 and Pac-12. This week ESPN’s “greatest conference ever” produced only one Sweet 16 team (UNC) while the three Fox Sports’ conferences produced eight.
One-quarter of the 32 teams in the three initial Fox Sports conferences advanced to the Sweet 16, compared to only one of 15 teams from the expensive and expanded ACC created by ESPN.
Part of the same attempt to marginalize the Big East included ESPN paying an additional $130 million to create an American Athletic Conference for the departing Big East football programs, but this conference produced no Sweet 16 teams either.
ESPN’s free spending and liberal agenda is leading to massive layoffs, while Fox added majority ownership of the Big Ten Network (which produced another three Sweet 16 teams) to go along with the rights they gave to Fox Sports from a deal going back to 1996.
ESPN’s “Requiem for the Big East” made the case that the Big East died when it dared to leave ESPN, but the Big East’s Villanova subsequently won the national title last year, and Syracuse’s home loss in the NIT mean none of the teams ESPN helped poach from the Big East (Louisville, Notre Dame and Pitt are the others).
Fox Sports Conferences Sweet 16 Teams
Big 12 (3 of 10) West Virginia, Baylor and Kansas
Pac-12 (3 of 12) Arizona, Oregon and UCLA
Big East (2 of 10) Butler and Xavier
Fox Majority Ownership Network Sweet 16 Teams (Big Ten Network)
Big Ten (3 of 14) Wisconsin, Michigan and Purdue
Other Conferences with Sweet 16 Teams
SEC (3 of 14) Florida, South Carolina and Kentucky
West Coast Conference (1) Gonzaga
ACC (1 of 15) UNC
Fox and other networks also have contracts to run some football games and other conference sports, and the big part of ESPN’s payout was due to the market for college football. However, the attempt to keep a virtual monopoly on sports cable programming failed. CBS maintains the actual $1 billion March Madness games, which saw very high ratings and live streams to kick off this year’s tournament (see Fortune), compared to the dropping numbers at ESPN that have led to layoffs.