It's impossible for me to view the monopoly ESPN has over the sports world and the unthinkable amount of money that comes in and out of Bristol without thinking of Gordon Gekko. As more and more is revealed about the way ESPN does business at the very top level of the company, the classic "greed is good" philosophy comes to the forefront. If one is wary of the evils of big business, perhaps ESPN's dominance troubles you immensely and you're thinking about the first steps to Occupy Bristol. If you believe in the virtues of the capitalist ethic, perhaps you applaud ESPN for successfully building a multi-billion dollar empire from scratch.
As time goes on though, and reporting gets better about television rights deals and what happens behind the scenes, we read more and more stories about the power and infulence of ESPN away from Chris Berman's annoying schtick, Pardon the Interruption, SportsCenter, and what we see and hear from ESPN. There's the ESPN that we love as sports fans in terms of their top notch sports broadcasting. There's the ESPN we don't love as much with Skip Bayless shouting and Tim Tebow talked about ad nauseum. Then, there's the corporate ESPN that we just don't know too much about as sports fans, but are beginning to learn more about. Networks are becoming increasingly focused on rights deals for televised sports as prices skyrocket and the value of broadcasting live sports dramatically increases. The Russian Roulette game of college football realignment has highlighted the high stakes involved. That's where perhaps the most alarming example of ESPN's greed and power was unveiled.
One quote from a Boston Globe story on Boston College and realignment of the ACC and Big East from BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo has hit the blogs. In a nutshell, Boston College supposedly blocked UConn from being one of the new additions to the ACC to protect their New England turf. (Evidently New England isn't big enough for the both of them, because, ya know, the Northeastern United States isn't big enough for the BC and UConn football programs.) One of the best college football writers, Pete Thamel of the New York Times, also had the quote and broke down the story:
“We always keep our television partners close to us,” DeFilippo told The Globe. “You don’t get extra money for basketball. It’s 85 percent football money. TV — ESPN — is the one who told us what to do. This was football; it had nothing to do with basketball.”
There's several levels at play here, but the sentiment that ESPN TOLD US WHAT TO DO is stunning for an athletic director to admit publicly. Now, what exactly did ESPN tell BC or the ACC to do? Did they tell the ACC which teams to poach from which conference? Did they advise BC to focus on football? Did they simply inform the conference that football dollars were the major player here... or was there something a bit more unseemly happening? More from Thamel in the New York Times:
DeFilippo’s comments give credence to the popular theory that ESPN encouraged Pittsburgh and Syracuse’s exit from the Big East in the wake of the Big East’s turning down ESPN’s billion dollar television deal in May during an exclusive negotiating window. ESPN has a billion dollar deal with the A.C.C., making that move either savvy business or collusion, depending on one’s perspective.
The ACC and ESPN both denied the claims of DeFilippo, who obviously said way too much... but keep in mind this is the same network that also told us "Bruce has resumed his assignments." Is it too hard to believe ESPN is instructing conferences on which team to poach? Is it too hard to believe ESPN is in on all these realignment meetings and discussions? Is it too hard to believe ESPN and the networks are moving the chess pieces of realignment around the board...