Column: ESPN+ wouldn’t be a minus for UConn

The American Athletic Conference and commissioner Mike Aresco will announce a new TV deal in the coming days. Photo by Eric Wang/The Daily Campus

The new American Athletic Conference TV deal won’t make anyone happy.

Rumored to be announced this week, the new AAC TV deal almost certain to give UConn more money per year than the current one, which pays out around $2 million annually. Most have ball-parked it at around $6 to $10 million per school, a decent increase from what the 12 schools are getting at the moment.

The timing of the announcement suggests that the conference will be re-upping with ESPN, as they have exclusive negotiating rights through February.

The optimists will point out that this would be exponential growth from the previous deal, and a partnership with the Worldwide Leader in Sports (that just so happens to be right in the Huskies’ backyard) doesn’t hurt.

The pessimists, usually the loudest on social media, will point out that even the high end of a potential deal would give the self-proclaimed “Power 6” conference with a fraction of the TV revenue that the other major conferences receive. This is on top of the usual hatred of the idea of tying UConn to the American itself, which is a topic for another article.

An unfounded complaint, however, comes over the deal’s likely inclusion of games on ESPN+, ESPN’s own streaming platform, which would be an overall boon to the UConn athletic department.

The last conference that signed a TV deal with ESPN was the Sun Belt. Their contract runs for eight years and is reportedly worth $300,000 to $400,000 a year to each of the member schools. The American’s deal is expected to be higher, sure, but the Sun Belt’s is useful for a couple of reasons.

First, their contract was reportedly paying out $100,000 per school on the previous deal, so a 3x- or 4x-increase is within reason. Second, it gives us a blueprint for what a deal between the AAC and ESPN would look like if the schools handed their tier three media rights back to the conference.

Tier one and tier two media rights are signed over by schools in every major conference in the country to include in their media deals. These sports include football and men’s and women’s basketball, the traditional revenue sports.

Tier three media rights include every other sport sponsored by the university, the baseballs, softballs, soccer, etc. Three conferences currently include third tier media rights in their contracts to ESPN: the SEC, ACC and now the Sun Belt. The rest have either retained theirs, like the Big 12 and the American, or signed them to a different outlet, like the Big Ten. The SEC and ACC have their own channel run by ESPN, where the majority of these sports will be aired, but the Sun Belt’s air on ESPN+.

The American isn’t getting their own television network anytime soon, so if they do sign their third tier rights over, they’ll likely land on ESPN+, along with a portion of football and basketball games that might have aired on CBS Sports Network in previous years (they would be out of the picture, assuming the new contract is exclusive with ESPN).

First, I’ll be fair and lay out the downsides to showing a portion of conference football on ESPN+. Most people have already subscribed to a dozen streaming services already, and an extra $4.99 a month might push some over the top, and would provide yet another barrier to people to watch a few UConn football and basketball games every year.

On the other hand, I have the feeling that ESPN+ will become more and more indispensable in the coming years as different leagues, professional and college, start to make new deals with ESPN.

The service already has rights to certain MLB, NHL and NBA games, PGA Tour golf and Serie A soccer, along with the Sun Belt, MAC, along with 10+ other mid-major conferences. The $5 a month would net you a lot more than just the occasional UConn women’s midweek game in Wichita.

The American isn’t getting their own television network anytime soon, so if they do sign their third tier rights over, they’ll likely land on ESPN+.

On top of that, a deal between the AAC and ESPN+ would give UConn’s tier three sports a home beyond the occasional proprietary stream. Field hockey, soccer and baseball are three of the school’s most successful teams as of late, and giving them a bigger platform would be great for UConn sports in general.

This deal comes at a fortunate time for baseball, softball and soccer as well, as all three are due to get new stadiums in the coming years, and newer facilities are usually more convenient for the video cameras.

ESPN+ would make it easier to watch those sports and tons more, putting them all at a centralized location and making it simple for you to watch on your phone, computer, Xbox or Fire TV. I would pay $5 a month for UConn sports period, and everything else that ESPN+ would provide is just an added bonus.


Luke Swanson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus.  He can be reached via email at luke.swanson@uconn.edu.