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Lee Fitting Worried ESPN Is Too Focused On College Football Playoff

National conversation around college football has been dominated by the Playoff.

Russ Heltman

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Courtesy: Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The College Football Playoff has been dominating the news this week and seemingly every week, for that matter, during college football season. 

The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach noticed the dominant space talking about the Playoff takes over in the national conversation and wanted to find out how to fix it. She spoke with experts from around the industry to see if there is room for the little guy to get some more love from the college football media.

One person who knows this topic like the back of their hand is ESPN senior vice president of production Lee Fitting.

“It’s time to take a little reset as far as we’re concerned,” Fitting said to Auerbach in the piece. “Obviously, the Playoff needs to remain a priority A) for the sport and B) for business. But at the same time, I’m worried that we’ve gone a little too far away from what makes college football great — and that is that there is something in every game for the fans out there. It’s not just the top four, five, six, or seven teams who are playing for something.”

It’s a tough task to juggle for Fitting and College Gameday host Rece Davis, who knows above all things the Playoff is what drives revenue and interest from a national audience.

“GameDay has as big an umbrella over the sport as humanly possible,” Davis said. “But if you try to do all that and ignore the monster that is the Playoff, you are not servicing the largest number of your viewers because, for better or worse at this moment in time in the sport, everything is viewed to a degree through the lens of how it impacts the Playoff picture. I don’t think we have to be exclusively in that vein, but we have to accept it.”

The perpetual cycle of just a few teams getting a shot at glory will end if the College Football Playoff committee welcomes a 12-team field. Until then, fans of the MAC and AAC can only hope for a New Year’s Six berth. Check out all the conversations Auerbach had on the topic right here.

Sports TV News

‘ACC PM’ Pairing Tre Boston, Taylor Tannebaum With Mark Packer

Former NFL safety Tre Boston and WTHR-TV Sports Reporter Taylor Tannebaum have been paired with Mark Packer for ACC PM, the new daily studio show for the ACC Network.

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Former NFL safety Tre Boston and WTHR-TV Sports Reporter Taylor Tannebaum have been paired with Mark Packer for ACC PM, the new daily studio show for the ACC Network.

ACC PM will air daily from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM, and will be centered around delivering news and commentary on the 15 ACC institutions.

“We are excited to have Taylor and Tre join our ACCN team and team up with Pack in the basement” said Aaron Katzman, ACCN coordinating producer. “All three have special ties to the ACC with Taylor growing up in South Florida and graduating from FSU, Tre being a star on the football field at UNC, and no one is as well-versed about the conference as Mark. This trio will be sure to entertain, engage and educate viewers every weekday afternoon.” 

Boston, a North Carolina grad, was drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers. He played five seasons in Carolina, while also spending time with the Chargers and Cardinals.

“This is truly a blessing and I’m thankful for ESPN and ACCN for the opportunity to be a part of the network and help launch the new afternoon show,” said Boston. “I love to talk, and this is a professional step I’ve always wanted to take. Mark Packer is the one of the best in the business and Taylor brings a unique and fresh perspective that I’m eager to learn from and grow with. I’m an ACC guy, so to be able to talk ACC football and sports every afternoon is a match made in heaven.”

Tannebaum, a Florida State alumna, has worked as a local sports reporter, spending the past four years in Indianapolis. She began her career in Huntsville, Alabama before moving to Dothan, Alabama.

“Ever since ACCN launched in 2019, it’s been a dream of mine to be a part of it,” said Tannebaum. “As a Florida State alum, I take great pride in the ACC and I’m humbled to be given the opportunity to highlight the conference every day. Even more exciting is the chance to join forces with Mark Packer and Tre Boston to bring viewers and fans a mix of in-depth insight and personality on ACC PM each afternoon. It’s a team I’m honored to be a part of and a product we are thrilled to share.”

The debut show will be Monday, August 22nd. The show will hit the road to begin the college football season, as they’ll be in Chapel Hill, North Carolina for week 0 as UNC plays host to Florida A&M.

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Sports TV News

Big Ten Finalizes Largest Media Rights Deal in College Sports History

The conference will earn more than $8 billion over a seven-year deal with CBS, Fox, and NBC. It will generate $1.1 billion per year. Its previous deal with Fox and ESPN garnered the conference $440 million annually.

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BIG TEN, CBS, NBC, FOX SPORTS

Per a report from Sports Business Journal‘s Michael Smith, it’s official: The Big Ten has secured and finalized the largest media rights deal in college sports history.

The conference will earn more than $8 billion over a seven-year deal with CBS, Fox, and NBC. It will generate $1.1 billion per year. Its previous deal with Fox and ESPN garnered the conference $440 million annually. The soon-to-be 16 schools in the conference, after the additions of USC and UCLA, will receive nearly $70 million annually from the deal.

The contract also sees the Big Ten’s women’s basketball tournament championship game migrate to CBS.

As for the perceived overlap between the SEC and Big Ten during the 3:30 PM ET window on CBS, Warren said the conference was more than willing to work around prior contractual obligations.

“I made up my mind early on that I was not going to put CBS in a position where they had to say no because they had to break the SEC contract,” Warren told Sports Business Journal. “It wasn’t the right thing to do. So we just had to get creative.”

Peacock will become the conference’s streaming home, and NBC has agreed to a $100,000 advertising budget with each conference member to promote their academic institutions. NBC will have 16 games per season in primetime under the terms of the newly signed deal.

Fox’s package of Big Ten games will grow from 24-27 to 30-32 games through the end of the deal in 2029.

Each network will air the Big Ten’s football championship game during the lifetime of the deal. Fox will air four, CBS will air two, and NBC will air one.

Sources told SBJ that while ESPN was not included in this media rights deal, there’s a possibility talks could continue to bring ESPN a smaller package of games than previously negotiated.

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Notre Dame Expects Next Media Rights Deal to be Worth $60 Million Annually

Notre Dame is reportedly seeking $75 million per year, while Sports Business Journal figures the school would get closer to $60 million.

Jordan Bondurant

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Chris Coduto

There are still a few more seasons until Notre Dame starts the process of hammering out a new media rights deal, but it’s believed the FBS independent could have its next partner shelling out more than double what NBC is currently paying.

NBC, which appears to be a front-runner alongside CBS to be one of the key rights partners in the Big Ten’s new contract, currently pays $25 million each year for rights to Fighting Irish football according to Front Office Sports.

Notre Dame is reportedly seeking $75 million per year, while Sports Business Journal figures the school would get closer to $60 million.

Viewership for Fighting Irish games was reportedly down 48% year-over-year for the 2021 season, averaging 2.5 million viewers. The year before that, the pandemic season in 2020, viewership for Notre Dame was its best since 2005.

Notre Dame remains an independent in football, but is in the ACC for its other programs. The Fighting Irish do play some ACC schools in football. With NBC and the Big Ten apparently becoming new partners, it’s believed that Notre Dame would then have more Big Ten opponents in football.

The current contract between the school and NBC ends in 2025.

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