Touchdown: ESPN To Air BCS, Outbids Fox

CollegeFootballWalt Disney will again air the college football Bowl Championship Series starting in 2011, outbidding current owner Fox Sports in a deal valued at $500 million for four years. But unlike the last time Disney owned the BCS, the one major exception is that virtually all games will air on ESPN--not ABC--making it the first major sports championship to be aired on a cable network.

Fox Sports had bid $400 million for four years, upping its rights fee over $70 million for its current four-year deal, which will be completed in 2010. Fox Sports has the rights to air the BCS Championship Game as well as the Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Fiesta Bowl.

ABC has had the rights to air the Rose Bowl game, also part of the BCS series.

News Corp.'s Fox has always been a competing bidder for sports, but now blames the dual-revenue stream of cable as the reason it lost the series of four New Year's football games.



"Even with today's vast economic uncertainties, Fox Sports made a very competitive bid to keep broadcasting BCS games free to every home in America, one that included a substantial rights fee increase and certainly as much as any over-the-air network could responsibly risk," Fox Sports said Monday in a release.

Media analysts have said the BCS games can be a hard sell for advertisers, given the lack of ad budgets that time of year, the big TV commercial inventories in the games and competition from the NFL playoffs. They say this year's games could be a particularly tough sell to advertisers because of the abysmal economy, which includes some cutbacks from financial services and automotive advertisers for specific sporting events.

Fox, however, has said that long-term four-year deals in place with major sponsors have softened any blow the weakening ad economy might create. Right now, those deals amount to 75% of inventory already sold for this year's bowl game events. Fox officials would not comment at this time on any new scatter sales activity for the games.

Shifting TV sports to cable is not new, but it's notable that bigger events are moving there. Last week, ESPN made news by securing golf's British Open, starting in 2010. Two years ago, ESPN grabbed one of the NFL's marquee series, "Monday Night Football," from ABC.

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