The latest updates with the big Disney/Fox deal have introduced a significant amount of corporate intrigue. Comcast, which at this point is somewhere between Initech and Buy-N-Large territory in terms of corporate evil, is now aiming to gank Fox's for-sale properties from Disney at the last minute.
The terms of the deal, as reported in Variety, have Comcast willing to part with around $60 BILLION - in straight cash, homey - to grab those Fox assets out from under Disney's nose. In addition, Comcast would owe Fox a cool $2.5 billion if regulators scuttled a potential deal, which, given Comcast's position as a distributor where Disney is not (at least yet, given the Sky/Fox situation), is a very real stumbling block.
What Does This Mean For Sports?
As I wrote about previously, a Disney takeover of 21st Century Fox's assets would fundamentally change the sports TV landscape, given that ESPN would suddenly be in the driver's seat of not just national but also regional sports television, particularly in Florida, where two of Fox's regional sports networks reside.
In the scenario where Comcast wins out, Fox Sports Florida and Fox Sports Sun would not become ESPN regional affiliates, but NBC Sports regional affiliates.
NBC already runs regional networks in San Francisco, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and the Pacific Northwest, and they have a partial stake in SNY in the New York area. Obviously, that portfolio would expand dramatically as well. Fox's regional sports empire would become NBC's, with a corresponding bump in the prestige of NBC Sports Network as well.
What Does This Mean For The American?
AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco has a tough game to play here. The American's current TV contract with ESPN and CBS Sports Network runs through the 2019-2020 academic year. One would hope that the Disney/Fox/Comcast love triangle would resolve itself by then, but with regulatory hurdles to clear, you just don't know - especially if Comcast were to swoop in and win the day.
So what do you do if you're Mike Aresco, it's the spring of 2019, and it's still not completely clear who is going to own what? Do you:
A. Stand pat with Disney, hoping for a better deal with better time slots, and ride the wave of the Worldwide Leader, even though publicly their staff seems to think you're a second-class citizen?
B. Seek a blockbuster deal with NBC/Comcast, who is already present in some of your major markets in the northeast and sees an opportunity to do the same in the other major markets you're in?
I could see an NBC deal happening where The American can get a Game of the Week on Saturdays on NBC (worked around Notre Dame's slots), a B-Game on NBC SN< and all other games on the regionals. Notre Dame, however, remains a sticking point, as their games usually eat up the prime 3:30 p.m. ET time slot, and their contract runs through 2025. So unless you like noon kick-offs, that's a tough negotiation.
What Does This Mean for UCF?
By 2020, UCF would not only be weighing their options as part of The American, but also with regard to any realignment that may be cranking up by then. The Big 12's TV contract doesn't expire until 2025, and there are still questions about whether Texas and Oklahoma might abandon a ship that they perceive is on the verge of sinking.
NBC might actually be in a better position than ESPN if they win the Fox deal, simply due to access of markets. They're already in Philadelphia and lower New England, where Temple and UConn are, and expansion to the south is an attractive prospect.
Should a powered-up NBC Sports Regional come to the American with a Godfather offer, UCF would be hard-pressed. Questions about championship access aside, a big payday from NBC might be just what UCF needs to cover its debts, not to mention the capital requirements the Knights' program might need if Spectrum Stadium needs retrofitting, or worse, if a future recession results in the Board of Trustees cutting tuition costs by re-examining UCF's already exorbitant student athletics fee.
Speaking of access, is NBC Sports becomes the bigger player in the sports TV business that their deal with Fox might portend, suddenly ESPN would have a significant battle on its hands for the national College Football Playoff contract, which comes due in 2025. Should NBC win the day, gather up The American for 2020, and challenge ESPN for the CFP, UCF might get exactly what it wants.
As with everything else UCF, the very unsatisfying answer is we'll just have to wait and see.