Let me say this up front. I don't care about the Big Ten Network.
Not one little bit.
It's irrelevant to me. Even as a sports fan and a rabid Michigan fan, whether it exists or not will not induce me to watch more television, buy more products, or love the Big Ten any more than I already do.
I watch a lot of TV. Really. I do. However, when choosing between an Indiana v. Michigan State women's soccer game and the Colbert Report or CNN, women's soccer will fall by the wayside. How the Big Ten intends to put on compelling programming to compete in primetime with other sports networks and regular television is a mystery to me.
As a result, whether the network makes it or not, I don't care.
The last few days have seen all manner of angry posts about the foot-in-mouth disease that seems to have afflicted Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney. MGoblog, MZone, Around the Oval, Hoosier Report, et al. have voiced their opinions that Delaney is bordering on Ross Perot level delusions of grandeur and the Big Ten Network seems destined to flop if Delaney's tune is not changed. The MSM is having a field day with the Commissioner's ridiculous statements.
I agree that Iowa volleyball games are not second-tier.
They are third-tier.
Or maybe fifth-tier.
Michael Rosenberg of the Free Press, Jim Carty at the Ann Arbor News, and the Detroit News have all chimed in, expounded on the seemingly idiocy of Delaney's position and the early orchestration of what is truly a PR disaster.
While I do not disagree with these sentiments, the truth is I really don't care about Delaney or his proposed network.
Nothing personal. But the thought of paying an extra cable fee to watch crew, wrestling, men's gymnastics, and water polo is right up there with slamming my fingers in the door.
The reality is the majority of the games I actually want to watch will be broadcast on regular television. Unless Delaney is planning to strip the Big Ten of its lucrative ABC and ESPN contracts to put everything on the BTN, every game Big Ten fans want to see will be readily and freely available.
Maybe I'm just fortunate I went to Michigan and all of their football games somehow manage to be broadcast. Maybe. But successful teams in the major revenue sports always end up on TV. Indiana doesn't get a whole lot of football airtime, but come basketball season you won't be able to get away from the Hoosiers. MSU is a mess on the gridiron but always on College Game Night when Izzo puts on a tie. Other schools, like Purdue or Minnesota, mid-tier all-round athletic schools, will get stuck on the BTN because they'll be the most compelling competition available, but honestly, that's not saying much. I'm not going to pay to watch those games.
Despite the Commissioner's pleas, I am unsure what the BTN is going to provide me that I don't already have or want. The Big Ten is not affiliated with college hockey. BIG strike one. If you're not going to cover arguably the most exciting game in college athletics, you're dead to me. Come basketball season the marquee match-ups are on CBS and ABC. When the Big Ten season kicks off, ESPN picks up most of the relevant games. Are Penn State fans going to want to pay extra on their cable bill to watch a team on TV they won't pay to watch in person? Does the Northwestern/Ohio State game really need a network? Strike two.
What about baseball and softball!? Our teams are teh suxors! Finally an argument to watch! Still, how many games are you really going to watch of either team's non-Big Ten or Big Ten season? Two maybe three? And that's assuming they even broadcast them. You might catch one extra game a season. With the growing popularity of college baseball and softball, it's not unforeseeable that both sports will find permanent homes on ESPN, ESPN2, or Fox. So, if you're getting it to watch a specific University's softball or baseball teams play, you're probably going to get one or at a maximum two extra games.
In the never ending race to squeeze every last penny from the viewing public, the Big Ten seems to have entered at the worst possible time. Not only does no one willing to pay for advertising care about the Big Ten's non-revenue sports, neither do its potential viewers.
How many people will turn off Major League Baseball's Wednesday game of the week to watch college wrestling? During football season, will anyone other than diehards watch MSU/Illinois? Is anyone willing to pay an extra $13 a year to have the option of watching sports they watch anyway when they're already doing that for versus and ESPN2?
In hindsight the BTN doesn't seem like the grand idea we all thought it could be months ago. Women's athletics and men's athletics will receive equal time. In theory this is a good idea, but in practice no one is really going to watch men's crew and women's field hockey. During football season, instead of providing access to games not usually seen, local networks that used to carry the Illinois or Northwestern games will get screwed because their low end football games will air on the BTN. This is reminiscent of Bill Wirtz blacking out Blackhawk home games to "maximize the ticket value for season ticket holders." All the BTN network will do is cost mid-tier BT schools young fans who would normally have access to their local team.
Thankfully, and strangely, Comcast has been the voice of reason on this issue. By looking at Delaney as though he has six heads and the body of a maltese, they have temporarily kept this little monster at bay. If anyone knows what the public is willing to pay for, it's Comcast. They've successfully screwed millions of people out of their money with substandard customer service, equipment, and obscenely high priced products. But they're still in business because people want their TV. Comcast has identified the tipping point between tolerance and rebellion among its subscribers, and they've successfully straddled that line like Paris Hilton on a second date. They know what the market will bare and Delaney does not.
On the bright side, if no one wants to pay for this debacle hopefully we'll only have to suffer through this for a year before it gets abandoned and things go back to the status quo. On the dark side, Delaney could dig his heels in (ala Gary Bettman) and rob his fanbase of the chance to see regularly broadcast games by acting like a spoiled child.
Regardless of how this turns out, I really don't care. Because of the Big Ten's existing contracts Michigan, Ohio State, MSU, Iowa and Penn State will all find their way onto free TV during football season. Come basketball season, we'll get to see the good games for the same reason.
This nightmare will pass. If Delaney continues to embarrass the Big Ten, he won't be Commissioner much longer. If the network comes or goes, I'll still be able to pick up ABC or ESPN. If I can't get a game at home, I can go to a bar or listen online.
Sure there's the possibility Delaney will screw us all out of seeing the games we're used to seeing. But if that happens, I can guarantee you Delaney and his network will disappear far quicker and more quietly than they arrived.
This network really means nothing to the causal fan. It barely registers for the intense fan, but only because of the potential impact the botching of the Network could have. While the Big Ten appears incompetent and delusional to the rest of the world at this particular moment, it is not about to endanger its revenues for the long run. Any alienation of its fans will be temporary. There's simply too much to lose.
So while the Commissioner blasts Comcast and Comcast ignores the Commissioner the rest of us wait to so what will happen, not because we care about the outcome of the Big Ten Network, but because we're curious just how much further Delaney can stick his foot down his throat.
Whether he succeeds or fails, honestly, I don't care. But it does make for good theater.