Let there be Big Ten Network & DFTU

Hello again everybody...

Once again, we come to the end of another week. And for those of you in the upper-Midwest, it's supposed to be a glorious weather weekend, so try to get out and enjoy it! Once again, I'm endeavoring to see The Dark Knight in IMAX this weekend. I hate to keep teasing you with a forthcoming IMAX-version review, but I really think it's going to happen this weekend! I think...

In any case there's always plenty to talk about in the world of sports. Today I'm going to discuss the debut of the Big Ten Network on Comcast, and what that means in the larger world of sports-broadcasting. Then it's time for this week's DFTU segment. So let's rock and roll...

"In all recorded history there has not been one economist who has had to worry about where the next meal would come from."
- Peter Drucker (1909 - 2005), writer, management consultant, and self-described “social ecologist."

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Today is the debut of the Big Ten Network on Comcast cable. BTN actually began broadcasting last year, but was available only to satellite television customers (elitist jerks... just kidding... mostly). So for last football- and basketball-season there were several games that were essentially blacked-out in most Big Ten markets.

As a Wisconsin fan, this was obviously quite problematic for me. Especially when it turned out that last year's Wisconsin/Minnesota football game was going to be on BTN. The battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe wasn't on my cable system?! Not good. So I was forced to find another venue to go see the Badgers put yet another country ass-whipping on the Gophers (Thank you Canterbury Park Card Club).
But that won't be the case this year. For those of you with Comcast digital cable, you'll now be able to see all the games you're used to seeing. Check your local listings (for people in the west metro, it's Channel 255).

This comes as a result of a deal Comcast cut with BTN this past June. It allows Comcast to put BTN on any tier it desires outside of traditional Big Ten markets. Inside those markets however, BTN must be placed on Comcast's expanded basic service through the end of the 2009 Big Ten Basketball season, after which it can be moved to a digital tier. According to the agreement however, BTN can not be placed on the "Sports Tier" for which Comcast customers have to pay extra.
So BTN gets near the level of placement that they were looking for and Comcast gets flexibility with placement outside of Big Ten Markets as well as a reduced per-subscriber rate inside those markets. So everybody wins, right?
Well, almost everybody. For cable subscribers, they'll now see an increase in their bill. A modest one to be sure - only $.70 per month - but an increase none-the-less. And outside of Football and Basketball, what are we really getting?

As I write this, BTN is showing Michigan vs. Northwestern Football circa 2000. Classic games are fun to re-watch. I can dig that. In fact, coming up at 10:30pm tonight, they're showing Wisconsin vs. Ohio State from 2003. I'll definitely be tuning in for that!

But in between classic games? We get practice sessions from Northwestern and Illinois, along with their "Year in Review" programs. And outside of football and basketball season? That's when BTN ramps up its "non-revenue sports" coverage. That's right. All the volleyball, wrestling and track & field coverage you can handle! Oof.

So can the Big Ten really make money on this endeavor? Can non-revenue sports broadcasts draw enough advertising to make the Network solvent? That's a good question. And I'll tell you who'll be monitoring the answer very closely: every other major college conference in the country.

And therein lies the real danger. If this works for the Big Ten, you can count on the Pac 10, SEC and Big 12 following suit quickly. And the Big East and ACC won't be far behind. Which means that a whole host of games that we're used to seeing on the ESPN's and FSN's of the world will no longer be available outside of add-on Sports Tiers.

What we're really headed for here is a-la-carte cable. The cable companies are fighting this tooth and nail because they claim it'll be more expensive all-around. And maybe they're right, I don't really know. What I do know is that programming is becoming more and more fractured by the day. And there's no way that the traditional structure of subscriber fees is going to be able to handle it all. A new model is required. And some form of a-la-carte format seems to make the most sense.

If I want to have all the regional sports network, while giving up Lifetime, Oxygen, Food Network and all of the useless versions of MTV, so be it. Other customers could customize their coverage how they see fit. Like I said, I don't know exactly how the price structure would work, but there's got to be some way to make it happen.

And things like the BTN are going to force someone far smarter than me to figure it out.

Finally this week, its time for the Dan's Favorite Teams Update segment:

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 67-53, in second place in the AL Central and one game behind the Chicago White Sox.

"Beat the Bombers!" That was the cry heard in the Metrodome this past week as the Twins took 2 of 3 from the Yankees. The major sports networks all chose to focus on the stumbling that the Yankees were doing. And I can understand that. There's a gentleman in the WCCO Newsroom who'll owe me $10 when the Yankees miss out on the post-season. So I don't really mind.

But what really stood out for Twins fans was the emergence - finally - of Delmon Young. Delmon had an outstanding series, hitting two 3-run home runs. One that tied Tuesday night's game in the bottom of the 9th. And the other which gave the Twins a lead they'd never surrender Wednesday afternoon.

Young came to the Twins along with Brendan Harris in a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays. He was supposed to be the power-hitting, right-handed bat to replace Torii Hunter in the Twins lineup. So far? Not so much. While Delmon is hitting a respectable .290, he has only 7 home runs and 52 RBI. Not the power numbers the Twins were hoping for. But perhaps he's coming around. All 7 of his home runs have come since June 1st, during which time he's hitting .315 with 37 RBI. So clearly his second half has been far better than his first half. This is especially important since it seems that Michael Cuddyer won't be available til the last week of the regular season or so.
Now the Twins have a chance to get revenge on the Seattle Mariners for the series lost out in Seattle last weekend. The Mariners visit the Dome for 3 before the Oakland A's do likewise. After that it's the epic 14-game road trip which could make or break the Twins season as they make way for the RNC.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 62-59, tied for first place in the NL West with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The big news for Arizona fans this week was the acquisition of OF Adam Dunn for minor league pitcher Dallas Buck along with two "players to be named later". One of which is apparently Micah Owings according to reports out of the Arizona Republic.

I'm of two minds on this deal. On the one hand, I like the fact that the Arizona brain-trust has decided to go for it this year and try to win now. Every fan wants that kind of attitude from their team.

And there's no doubt that Dunn adds something to the D'back lineup. Dunn is tied for second place in all of baseball in home runs with 32. He's also second in the NL in walks. What that means ultimately is that he's in a position to help protect other players in the D'back lineup. If an opposing pitcher knows Dunn is on-deck in a critical situation, it forces him to throw fatter pitches to the batter ahead of Dunn, because he knows Dunn's in a position to hurt him if he makes it to the plate.

On the other hand, Dunn has the 4th-highest strikeout total in the NL. So while opposing pitchers must respect his power and eye at the plate, they also know that he'll swing and miss if they make the appropriate pitch. And this is especially problematic seeing as how the Diamondbacks already had 2 of the top 4 strikeout leaders in the NL. So now they have 3. Joy.

So ultimately it's hard to say how much of a benefit this is going to be. And if it's true that Arizona's giving up Buck and Owings along with a third un-named player, it's tough to give this deal a firm thumbs-up.

It's the ultimate sports-writer cop out, but I'll use it anyway: only time will tell.

The D'backs begin a 3-game series in Houston tonight before returning home next week to face the Padres and Marlins.

That's all for this week ladies and gents. Hope you all have a fabulous weekend. I'll be back on Monday with more Sports Take wonder. Until then, thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. On the other hand, I am addicted to the Olympics. I can get by without all the "I'm a person, too!" stories. I like to see great athletes compete. It doesn't really matter the sport, I like to see passion and drive and effort. There's no shortage of any of that at the Olympics. I could watch them muted, I don't particularly care for most of the commentary...well, except for certain sports, that require, rhythm gymnastics or classic pentathalon. Swimming, running, throwing things...these require no commentary. Beach volleyball requires no commentary.