The American Athletic Conference announced Wednesday that it reached a 12-year media rights extension with ESPN, beginning in the 2020-21 season.
Financial terms were not disclosed, but the Sports Business Journal reported last week the deal was for $1 billion. The report states that each AAC school will receive a nearly $5 million bump in annual revenue, up to $6.9 million.
Wichita State is not receiving a cut of the current AAC media rights deal because it was not a member of the conference when it was negotiated. It is unclear the exact amount WSU, a non-football member, will receive on an annual basis starting in 2020-21, but AAC commissioner Mike Aresco told The Eagle it will be a significant bump from what it was receiving as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference.
In its last four years in the Missouri Valley, WSU reported an annual average of $370,335 in media rights revenue.
“This deal is good for Wichita State because this deal is good for the American,” Aresco said. “It elevates our status and it elevates their status. We’ll have to figure out the allocation for men’s basketball, but they’ll do better than they’ve done before and certainly better than they ever did in the Missouri Valley. That’s good for them financially.”
In terms of the money, there’s no denying it’s a win for Wichita State.
But is this new agreement a win for the fans?
When details of the new agreement were made public last week, many fans worried about ESPN’s plan of moving the majority of the men’s basketball conference games from television to ESPN+, a subscription streaming service, when the deal kicks in for the 2020-21 season.
It reminds WSU athletic director Darron Boatright of a few years ago when ESPN told the Shockers they were planning on streaming most of their Missouri Valley games on ESPN3.
“I didn’t like the idea of it at first, but then I gave it time, I adjusted and looking back on it now, I was dead wrong,” Boatright said. “It became a very simple thing. It’s something now that we’re easily accustomed to and comfortable with. While I do understand there will be hesitation, I think that it will quickly subside.”
WSU’s basketball future is trending upward. If it continues winning games and being a frontrunner in the American, the majority of WSU’s games will be unaffected and remain on ESPN’s networks. According to the AAC release, ESPN has committed to airing a minimum of 65 regular-season men’s basketball games, up from 32 in the previous agreement, on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU.
Last season, when WSU spent the entire season ranked in the top 25, 14 of WSU’s 18 conference games were aired on a major television network. This season, during a rebuilding year, only eight of the 18 conference games made it to a major television network.
“Wichita State is one of our biggest brands,” Aresco said. “They’re going to be front and center most of the time, so I would imagine they’re going to get a lot of linear coverage. They’ll be some games on ESPN+ and it’s going to be a change. But ESPN+ is the future. We’re taking games that were not widely distributed and now making them available everywhere. If you want to watch the game, now you can watch from anywhere.”
ESPN+ is different from ESPN3 or WatchESPN, which is included for free with a cable subscription through a company like Cox. ESPN+ can be streamed to a phone, tablet or a supported device for $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year, but those figures are subject to change, especially as ESPN pushes more content to the platform.
It makes it convenient for a younger generation who are more accustomed to streaming services. But for generations who like to tune in to the television to watch the Shockers, it could create an issue.
The option of going to a sports bar to watch the game might not be an option. As it is currently set up, ESPN+ is not available for bars to stream to their televisions. That might change as ESPN dedicates more resources to its new subscription service, but if it doesn’t, another avenue of watching the Shockers could be taken away.
Boatright isn’t concerned yet. He wants to give it time and see how things play out next year.
“Let’s give it a shot,” Boatright said. “Let’s not try to predict what might or might not happen. We have a year to prepare for this before it takes effect. The technology is going to continue to. update and change. I’m confident the Shockers will get even more exposure moving forward.”
The biggest winners of the new deal might be the Wichita State baseball, softball and volleyball programs. Currently only a handful of their games are available online or on television. But under the new deal, ESPN promises to stream a significant amount of their games on ESPN+.
Not only will the cost of ESPN+ cover the basketball games, but it will now allow out-of-state fans and parents of athletes to watch almost every competition.
“I think we’re all big winners in this,” Boatright said. “We want our fans to be the big winners. We’re happy that some of our Olympic sports that haven’t gotten as much coverage as they deserve, hopefully this is getting us closer to displaying what fantastic programs we have.”