Lyons Interview, Part 5: The Future Of Sports On TV Is Still Uncertain
Each summer dating back to Fred Schaus, I’ve gotten a chance to sit down with West Virginia University’s director of athletics for an in-depth interview on a wide range of topics. From conference realignment to coaching changes to facilities renovations, we’ve covered an extensive landscape over the last three decades.
This summer I got another chance for a lengthy one-on-one interview with Shane Lyons, who was hired as WVU’s A.D. in January of 2015. As usual, the questions involved a variety of subjects. In a series of articles over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll look at Lyons’ view on those topics. We kicked off this series with a recap of Phase 1 of facilities improvements, then followed that up with details on Phase 2 of West Virginia’s athletic facilities renovations, which Lyons will reveal publicly in the next month. Part three of the series covered his thoughts on the expectations surrounding the Mountaineer football team heading into the 2018 season, while part four dove into expectations for the 2018 football team.
In part five of this series, we get Lyons’s thoughts about the future of sports on television.
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The 36-inch Zenith console television your parents displayed with such pride in their living room in 1979 is now as obsolete as the Atari gaming system that sat atop that faux-walnut behemoth or the JVC hi-fi stereo that was beside it.
Heck, if you try to take that big tube television to a charity thrift story today, they won’t even accept it as a donation. The fringe vest and paisley shirt yes, but the 32-inch RCA, no way.
Televisions have changed and so has how people watch them. Those involved with college athletics are very aware of these changes and how they may affect the TV contracts in the future.
“We’re entering a new era where the consumption of live events is going to be looked at differently than it was in the past,” explained WVU director of athletics Shane Lyons. “The streaming opportunities make it different than the days of over-the-air and cable channels. The Netflixs and the Googles and the Amazons will change this world. You have to look at the consumer and how they are watching programming. The young people, like both of my kids, walk around with their phones and watch streaming that way. Those are the things we have to look at as we move forward as a league. We have to look to the future and what adjustments need to be made as we move down that path.”
Verizon, which also owns Yahoo and AOL, signed a five-year, $2.5 billon deal with the NFL last year allowing that company to live stream preseason, regular season and playoff games to mobile devices.
The Power 5 conferences still are working under the old TV contracts with networks like ESPN, FOX and CBS, though each of those also has a streaming platform as well. Some of the mid-major conferences, which have seen their media rights money plummet recent years, are looking to the streaming services as a way to recoup some of those lost funds. Conference USA, whose TV deal dropped from $1.1 million per year per team to $200,000, has recently reached a deal with Stadium to broadcast 15 football and 17 men’s basketball games this coming year exclusively on Facebook. That could become prevalent for all conferences in the future. (WVU’s baseball win over the Herd in Charleston earlier this year was broadcast on Stadium.)
“I think they (the streaming services) are becoming a player in the game,” noted Lyons. “If you go back 40 years and look at a 24-hour sports channel like ESPN, people were shaking their heads and saying it was never going to work. Well, how many channels do they have now? I think streaming is the same thing. It will be the way consumers obtain live content. It won’t be next year, but we’re headed that way. Most of the TVs that are being put into homes right now are smart TVs with streaming capabilities. I do think that down the road that someone will enter that into the collegiate model. It’s just a matter of who is going to step out and give it a try.”
Nothing will change with the Big 12’s Tier 1 and Tier 2 TV rights for a number of years. The league’s current deal, which is a large part of the reason each Big 12 member is pulling in $34.5 million per year in payouts from the conference, doesn’t end until 2025.
Other Power 5 conferences will start negotiating their TV deals in the not too distant future, though, as their contracts expire before the Big 12’s. Those new contract for the other league will give the Big 12 a preview of what to expect when it goes to the bargaining table.
“You have a couple conferences before us in ’22 and ’23,” said Lyons. “You have the Big Ten and Pac-12 coming up, and you also have a couple of professional leagues before that. We are seven years out. We’ll start to look at it, but we’re still a ways out.”
With the advancement of the streaming services, it would appear very likely that the next Big 12 TV contract will contain more options than just the old-fashioned networks.
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In our next installment, which is slated for July 25, we’ll get Lyons’ thoughts about the state of the Mountaineer basketball program.