College football championship series leaving free TV

In 2010, the NCAA football championship series won’t be broadcast on free television.

The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) — now on FOX via over-the-air broadcast television — will move exclusively to ESPN starting with the 2010 season. This will be the first major U.S. sports championship to leave free network television to be distributed exclusively on cable.

FOX’s four-year deal with BCS ends after next season. Conference commissioners and BCS TV negotiators met in Chicago with the networks to make the $125 million annual deal, “USA Today” reported.

ESPN will get the national championship games, plus the Fiesta, Orange and Sugar Bowls for four years, through 2014. Walt Disney, owner of ESPN, already has the rights to the BCS' Rose Bowl in a separate deal. It can move that game from ABC to ESPN, but it is expected to stay on ABC at least through 2010.

FOX, which is currently paying about $82.5 million annually for four BCS games, said in a statement that it had offered “as much as any over-the-air network could responsibly risk” before college football chose to “move its jewel events to pay TV.”

The ESPN sale was expected. Broadcasters rely solely on TV ad sales, while ESPN charges among the pay television industry’s highest subscriber fees.

The new deal comes with extensive digital rights. ESPN will operate the official BCS Web site, and it also can stream games live on ESPN’s digital platform,, and to mobile devices. ESPN’s sister networks, ESPNU and ESPN Classic, will also get to use content from the BCS games.

Postseason games in various pro leagues, including MLB and the NBA, already have moved to cable with the NCAA women’s Final Four.

Meanwhile, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said major TV coverage of the NFL postseason would not be affected.

At a meeting in the league's Los Angeles offices, Goodell said, “The broader exposure is something that's of benefit to us,” he said. “The NFL is the only league that continues to be successful on free television, and we're proud of that. I don't see any significant restructuring from that standpoint. We love the idea of being broadly available.”

Last week's deal to move the bulk of college football's major postseason contests to ESPN in 2011 is the latest sports land grab by a cable network, coming on the heels of the sports network's new deal to take over the entire British Open golf tournament. The NFL is the only major sports league not to have any playoff games on cable television, though most of the major sports' championship games or rounds remain on broadcast.

The NAB Television Board of Directors adopted a resolution today advocating support for Americans' continued free access to major televised sporting events.

"Broadcasters continue to support the rights of all Americans to have free access to telecasts of major sporting events, particularly those of publicly funded educational institutions," the resolution states. "The NAB Television Board of Directors hereby directs NAB staff to work with policymakers to educate them on the importance of ensuring that no segments of society are disenfranchised from this highly valued programming."

ESPN pays $1.1 billion per year for the “Monday Night Football” franchise without a playoff game as part of the package.