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No ESPN For the Hawkeyes

May 22, 2016

Written by David Schwartz

Hawkeye Nation

The Big Ten might be on the verge of making a grave mistake.

Its relationship with ESPN might soon be over.

Regardless of what one thinks of the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports, its power over American culture cannot be denied. The Walt Disney Company operates as the third-largest media company on the planet. Its most profitable entity is ESPN.

SportsCenter ratings are declining. Some of its biggest personalities – Bill Simmons, Mike Tirico, Skip Bayless – have jumped ship. But its revenue remains massive because in today’s media climate, live coverage is everything. DVRs have decimated the advertising revenue of scripted shows, but live spectacles like sports and award shows are thriving because in those cases the “moment” matters.

No one does live sports coverage better than ESPN. It broadcasts games over ESPN, ESPN2, ABC, ESPN U and others. In 2015, only Univision had more viewers by a cable network than ESPN. Meanwhile, Watch ESPN, its mobile app, is nearing 100 million users.

The Big Ten is in bed with Fox, its Big Ten Network partner. A huge new deal will be coming the Big Ten’s way that will generate millions in new revenue for the conference and its schools.

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Cool.

But don’t abandon ESPN altogether. Just … don’t. Maintain some sort of relationship. Regardless of what commissioner Jim Delaney says, an ESPN partnership delivers built-in social currency.

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Maybe it sounds cosmetic, but it isn’t. An Iowa-Rutgers basketball game on ESPN2 carries more currency than Iowa-Michigan State on FS2. The old real estate maxim “location location location” also holds in college sports.

And consider this: If the Big Ten completely cuts out ESPN, the next time a recruit or a recruit’s parents ask Kirk Ferentz or Fran McCaffery if their games are on ESPN, the answer will have to be “no.”

ESPN is the most visible sports network in the world. Iowa might not be on it.

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Tread carefully, Big Ten. Be careful what you wish for.

* Talk with David Schwarz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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