SAN FRANCISCO - Chris Bevilacqua was one of the most popular guests circulating around at the Pac-12 Network launch on Wednesday night and rightfully so. The media consultant had a leading role in the conference's negotiations on a landmark $3 billion deal with ESPN and Fox that, in part, helped the league launch an unprecedented seven cable channels to help lead a remarkable transformation of the once media weakling on the college landscape.
With the Pac-12 moving onward and upward as the 2012 football season rolls around, Bevilacqua is moving onto his next pursuit: doing the same for the
"Everybody has seen what's happened in the media business over the last 24 months with sports rights. Live, scarce sports rights are very valuable and getting more valuable by the day," Bevilacqua said. "On top of that, the Big East is the last college sports franchise into the market for a very long time. There's a very natural supply/demand equation here so they're in a very good position."
On Tuesday, the Big East hired CBS executive vice president Mike Aresco to be its new commissioner, giving the conference a highly regarded team to see them through negotiations. Bevilacqua has not yet had a chance to talk to the very busy new commish, who has made a number of television and radio appearances the past few days, but exchanged several emails and is looking forward to assessing what the conference has to do in the coming months.
Item number one on the agenda is to plan for discussions with current TV rights holder ESPN. Last spring the Big East turned down a $1.17 billion, nine-year deal with the network that was widely considered to be the beginning of several notable departures at the conference office and in terms of schools such as Pitt and Syracuse. The league has a chance to make nice when the 60-day exclusive negotiating period starts on September 1st and while Bevilacqua won't make any predictions on how the talks will go, he noted the good relationship the two have shared over the past 34 years as partners.
"It's an incredibly important relationship and the conference has got to honor all of those existing contractual obligations," he said. "I'm sure there would be a lot of thoughtful discussion about what kind of relationship could possibly work between the conference and ESPN. But I think suffice it to say, it's pretty hard to these days for any one media company to absorb all this high quality content.
"I think it's still early to see how this plays out."
If the league can't come to an agreement with ESPN, as is widely speculated, the door is considered open to bids from NBC/Comcast and/or Fox. The Big East is looking at a wide range of estimates for their new deal with the departures of West Virginia, Pitt, Syracuse and TCU to other leagues but Bevilacqua notes that the additions of schools such as Boise State, San Diego State and Navy give the conference additional markets they didn't have before.
"They're in very valuable markets," he added. "They have a membership footprint that spans four time zones, they have six of the top 10 markets, 13 of the top 28 markets, all that are very dense markets that have very strong, passionate sports fan bases. I think they have all the great characteristics to really have a great outcome in terms of economics and exposure."
The influx of new schools has already triggered a look at the conference from a marketing standpoint, not only in terms of rebuilding the conference's reputation but enhancing the Big East brand and what it stands for. Bevilacqua is very aware that opinions vary widely when discussing the strengths and weaknesses of Big East basketball and football but thinks the overall health of both sports is good enough to produce a big television deal based on providing strong year-round programming with the basketball complementing the football.
"Football is a big driver of the economic value," he said. "But the Big East is the crown jewel of college basketball. So they're a little bit unique in that a higher portion of their value will be allocated in basketball than some of the other conferences because they're a top level if not the premiere basketball conference. The combination of all that is going to allow them to have a great outcome."
The Big East's basketball and football contracts do expire at different times however, with basketball running through 2012-13 and football through 2013-14.