Fox dumps BCS; heads for ESPN

Chalk up another victory for The Worldwide Leader in B.S. And the coup involves an organization that put the B.S. in BCS.

After Fox Sports rejected to match an offer, the Bowl Championship Series – or BCSis headed for ESPN beginning in 2011 in a four-year, $500 million deal.

The deal means the Orange Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl, and the BCS Championship Game head for cable TV after decades on broadcast. The deal also raises the likelyhood the Rose Bowl will head to ESPN as well.

Despite the fact ESPN-produced games appear on sister network ABC, the BCS games won’t appear on ABC.

The move is the latest of major sporting events moving to cable, due to shrinking ratings on broadcast and the fragmenting of the audience. Recently, the NBA and Major League Baseball have shifted the majority of their playoff games to cable, while the NHL makes only one playoff game available for broadcast per week to NBC.

Meanwhile, the British Open is also shifting to ESPN, from its longtime ABC home.

ESPN officials say they would not add a subcharge to cable distributors to carry the NCAA Bowl games. Recently, the FCC and Congress had been pushing for a la carte cable – as a result of high per-subscriber rates to carry major cable networks like ESPN – who charges cable operators the highest per-subscriber fee.

As for Fox, the BCS games looked out of place on Fox Sports’ schedule, as the network never carried regular-season college football games, and it was hard to cross-promote the BCS with other sports.

Despite the criticism regarding ESPN (its commentators were the most vocal about having a playoff system), it seems college football fans are happy with the move, even if it means moving the games off broadcast TV.

The last time Fox passed on renewing a sports contract was in 1999, when it let the NHL package move to ABC after a five-year, unprofitable run.

Thought: This is more proof that if you are a sports fan, cable or satellite is a must. Want to know why more sporting events are moving to cable? 1. Dual revenue streams – from the cable network AND subscriber fees. 2. Major sporting events (outside of the NFL) don’t get huge ratings anymore because its now all about the size of the team’s fan base. It’s ridiculous when the Boston Red Sox (market #7) has a larger fan base than the Philadelphia Phillies (market #4) – and it showed in this year’s World Series, which were the lowest-rated ever. Networks would actually make more money airing regularly-scheduled programming (more Lipstick Jungle, anyone?), as sporting events attract male, older-skewing demos – something the major broadcast networks have mostly abandoned in prime-time. 3. Cable/satellite penetration is now nearly 90 percent in the U.S., rendering any cry about these events moving to cable moot.

So the BCS moves to cable. The World Series will likely be next, followed by the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup (which already has the first two games on Versus.) It’s a hard, sobering fact of life broadcasters, advertisers, and the public must face.