Media pundits, and semi-anonymous broadcast network programmers, have noted that as the NCAA college football bowl games moved from broadcast to ESPN this year their ratings have mostly been lower, and the one bowl that moved from cable to broadcast was up. (We don’t closely track college football ratings, but our friends at Sports Media Watch do a fine job).
ESPN’s PR comment to these observations was on the order of “blame the matchups, not the network”, which while broadly true, can’t be what the folks upstairs at ESPN are thinking which is much more likely “just wait until we get to the next carriage fee negotiations”.
ESPN’s estimated carriage fee is in the neighborhood of $4.50/subscriber/month (the next highest for cable networks is closer to $1). Disney moved Monday Night Football over to ESPN to boost their bargaining power over those carriage fees, and that’s precisely why they made a play for the BCS package.
ESPN is paying a reported $500 million over four years. That $125 million a year requires about a $0.10/month increase in monthly carriage fees to break even. With those numbers in mind, I’m sure ESPN isn’t shedding any tears over the ratings.