It’s still a little more than a year away, but Big East commissioner John Marinatto has September, 2012 circled prominently on his calendar.
That’s when the Big East Conference will start the process of finalizing its new television agreement. It will very likely be another watershed moment in the 32-year history of the league, first built on basketball, but now solidly a significant part of the college football landscape.
“They will be the most important television negotiations in our history because they are going to provide for us the revenue that becomes the glue that keeps this conference moving forward and puts it in a position of prominence that it has been in over the last 32 years for the next generation,” Marinatto said earlier today on the Big East Digital Network from Newport, R.I.
Considering what other conferences have been able to secure with their respective television deals, Marinatto is confident the Big East is now positioned to cash in as well.
“We feel very confident about where we are in terms of the marketplace, what our product is, the confidence that we have in it and what’s happened over the last 12 months in the world of the media landscape that is out there,” Marinatto said.
Marinatto pointed out that the Big East was one of the first conferences to take television into consideration when it was formed in 1979.
“When Dave Gavitt founded this league, he built it around media markets,” Marinatto said. “That was a very different concept back then, and it is something that we take advantage of today. The Big East Conference currently represents 25 percent of all television households in the country. With the addition of TCU we will be in over 30 percent – by far the most any conference is able to offer to any television partner in the country.
“Seven of our schools are located in the top 14 media markets; 12 of our schools are located in the top 35 media markets,” he said. “We are so solidly positioned to move forward to do the kinds of things our peer conferences have done because it’s been their turn to negotiate and go into the market and now we find ourselves being in the position today of needing to prepare as best of we can for the next round (of TV negotiations).”
That may also include the creation of a Big East television network similar to what the Big Ten did in 2007 and the Pac 12 is forming this year, according to Marinatto.
“When you look at the marketplaces that we represent, how could it not be under consideration with what we are looking at? When you bring to the table 30 percent of the TV households in the country how could you not look at the potential of creating your own network?” Marinatto said. “We obviously have a great partner in ESPN. They have done a lot for us and we’ve done a lot for them.
“We were both born in 1979 and we’ve grown up together in many ways and we’ve added to each other’s brands in many ways. We are very respectful of that relationship, and obviously we want to honor all of the contracts that we have in place, but there is nothing wrong with contemplating and aspiring where we could be, theoretically, provided we do the right things, by taking advantage of the marketplaces that we represent and exploit that in a way just like the Pac 12 did last week and just like the Big Ten did in 2007.
“The world has changed.”
Presently, the Big East is really only a conference in name with Louisville, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, DePaul and Marquette in the league, and TCU set to come aboard next year. Marinatto addressed the awkward nature of having conferences today covering many different geographic areas.
“From an administrator's standpoint our attitude has always been we’ll find a way to make it work,” he said. “From a practical standpoint, when you look at the TCU addition, and the way some people reacted to that, I remember saying at the time to so many people if a conference that is called the Big Ten can have 12 schools and a conference that is called the Big 12 can have 10 schools, why can’t the Big East have a school in Dallas, Texas? There is nothing wrong with that.”
That’s because TCU offered so much in terms of on-field football success, a large television market and an academic reputation that was impossible to ignore, says Marinatto.
“You look at a number of things when you do the analysis from a pure football standpoint - you are looking at the defending Rose Bowl champion potentially being a member of the league. How attractive is that? They come from the fifth-largest media market in the country. How attractive is that?” he said.
“They brought to us the kinds of things (former Big East commissioner) Mike Tranghese talked about for a number of years, that if we were going to expand we would take a school that was going to provide us value,” Marinatto said. “From a level of quality of football, from a marketplace standpoint, from a television standpoint, from an academic standpoint, they answered all of those requirements.”
Those requirements will also remain in place if the Big East chooses to go beyond 17 schools to increase its football membership to 10 schools or beyond.
“As we continue the process, those are still the criteria that we are looking at,” Marinatto said. “We would want to expand with schools that bring value to the league, not only because of the assets that they offer, but because they provide us with, hopefully, the stability and the security that will keep us around for a long time.”
And the key to that long-term stability and security will be the next TV contract that Marinatto is presently preparing to negotiate next summer.