You get what you pay for – and the Big East got a lot.
In hiring CBS Sports programming vice president Mike Aresco, the conference not only reworked the model, it created a new one. A major network exec leaving to become a commissioner? It hasn't happened. It doesn't happen.
Until Tuesday. The slap-hitter known as the Big East hit the shot heard around college athletics. At least as far as commissioners go. Let's put this in perspective. A top executive of perhaps the most powerful over-the-air sports operation in North America just left for a conference on life support.
Aresco, a TV power broker, brought expertise to a league that needs nothing but TV expertise.
“I'll be dipped,” said former Big 12 interim commissioner Chuck Neinas when informed of the hire in an early-morning phone call. “I guess they'll be able to negotiate with CBS.”
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Let's not go crazy. Neinas and Aresco do have a relationship that goes back at least two decades – Neinas has head of the old College Football Association and Aresco as a rising young executive who used to work at ESPN. While CBS probably isn't interested in the Big East rights, anything seems possible at the moment.
The Big East is sending an obvious message. Aresco is now the only FBS commissioner who comes from strictly a TV background. The league presidents wanted “another Larry Scott”, but the Pac-12 commissioner's background was in marketing and sponsorship with the Women's Tennis Association. Aresco will be paid more than $1 million per year, perhaps way more, to “fix” the waddling league.
His hiring signals not only where the Big East is heading, it shows where college sports is. It's all about maximizing and monetizing media worth. The SEC is the middle of trying to create a Big Ten-like network, three years after signing a landmark deal with CBS and ESPN.
Aresco helped negotiate the CBS portion of that deal --15 years, $3 billion (at a bargain price for the CBS part of it, it should be noted.) CBS continues to get first choice of the league's best game each Saturday. Aresco has negotiated basketball deals with the ACC, Pac-10, Big Ten, Big 12 – and Big East.
The league that was hoping for interest for competing networks now has created a market for their once-shaky product by sheer will. Aresco will open doors that previously were closed. The conference just assembled itself a power media trio with Aresco, TV rights consultant Chris Bevilacqua and senior associate commissioner Nick Carparelli. The Big East's future is all about its next contract, which will be negotiated in the next few months. (The basketball deal expires after the upcoming season. Football is done after 2013-2014.)
ESPN has first dibs in an exclusive negotiating window beginning on Sept. 1, but NBC is known to have a craving for college football content to pair with Notre Dame.
Optimistic Big East sources are hoping a new contract with ESPN or NBC could go north of the ACC, $17 million per school. A more sensible number might be $70 million-$100 million for everything – at least 21 schools by 2015.
“Two-thirds of the schools are Conference USA, the Mountain West and independents,” said an industry source, “that were valued at pennies on the dollar [in terms of TV]. They went to the Big East. What changed?”
“That's a break for the Big East. They have outkicked their coverage on this one,” Neinas said of his old friend. “That guy [Aresco] keeps telling me he wants to move to Colorado. He made a wrong turn on the way to Colorado.”