Since 2010, SportsNet New York (SNY) has been the official television home of UConn’s high-profile athletic teams (i.e. its men’s and women’s basketball teams and its football team). UConn sports fans who reside within the New York area have greatly enjoyed the hundreds of hours of high-quality coverage which SNY has provided annually. However, the American Athletic Conference (AAC)’s new television contract with ESPN may drive a wedge between UConn and its current broadcast partner. Despite some potential short-term financial benefits, said deal’s likely exclusion of SNY would prove quite consequential long-term for UConn and its sports following.
Financially speaking, the ESPN deal is fairly appealing for both sides. As The Hartford Courant’s Mike Anthony notes, the 12-year, $1 billion deal “represents a healthy influx of money for UConn and every other conference school, with the average payout approaching $7 million annually, nearly $5 million more than what UConn receives under the current deal.” Such a contribution would greatly aid UConn’s athletic department as it climbs out of its $41 million debt. Also, reports indicate that ESPN intends to broadcast most AAC games on its rising ESPN-plus digital streaming service. UConn’s athletic offerings may prove particularly enticing for subscribers–and consequently profitable for ESPN.
These surface-level benefits alone do not justify UConn’s involvement with the AAC’s ESPN deal, especially without SNY’s collaboration. As mentioned previously, SNY’s coverage is both widespread locally and critically acclaimed. Comparatively speaking, exclusivity of UConn sports content via ESPN’s promising yet still unproven online premium service may drive away a significant number of viewers. Aside from its regular broadcasts of UConn sports games, SNY has provided an invaluable promotional platform for the university and its athletic department. Although ESPN’s facilities reside in-state, its all-encompassing and largely impartial coverage leaves something to be desired for those more locally-inclined sports fans. Assuming that the average $7 million annual payment is distributed equally to each AAC university, UConn could stand for a more favorable deal, even financially, on the basis of its basketball programs’ heightened audience draws.
Ultimately, the downsides of the AAC’s new television deal with ESPN outweigh its advantages for UConn. In order to maintain a healthy, devoted sports-based audience and maximize profits, UConn and its athletics department must continue to play ball with local affiliate SNY in any capacity they can.