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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

COLUMN: The Effect Of ESPN Radio's National Deal With USC Football

Max Meyer |
April 17, 2012 | 11:44 a.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Trojans games will be aired across the country starting this fall.
Trojans games will be aired across the country starting this fall.
A multi-year agreement was reached between ESPN and the University of Southern California on Monday that will allow ESPN Radio to have exclusive national radio broadcast rights for all of USC's home football games. Trojans games from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will now be broadcasted on up to 300 ESPN Radio affiliates around the country.

While I think that this is a great opportunity for both sides, there will definitely be questions floating around the college football world. The only other football team with a national radio broadcast contract is Notre Dame with IMG. They also have all of their home football games on television broadcasted by NBC.

However, IMG and NBC aren't nearly the sports media powerhouse that ESPN is. With ESPN constantly programming multiple college football games per week and having a plethora of pre-game, in-game, and post-game coverage regarding college football, it's difficult to see why an organization with such a huge tie to college football would commit themselves to one college with their radio network.

Also, would this agreement lead to at least a little bias or favoritism from a network that is supposed to be about objective sports journalism? Would ESPN think twice about breaking a USC athletic scandal (knock on wood) since they are now broadcasting their football games for several years?

Then there's the question regarding national interest. Usually fans of certain college football teams consist of people who have attended that college or university, people living in or near the campus, and some sporadic fans that like rooting for perennial contenders. While USC football generates a lot of attention out on the west coast, will they still be able to spark interest from the east coast where they have a USC of their own (University of South Carolina)?

If USC has a night game (or 10:00 pm on the east coast), there won't be any major east coast school games to compete with, so there shouldn't be a problem. However, if USC has a day game (or 3:30 pm on the east coast) there will be some very unhappy fans who will be stuck with USC vs. Colorado rather than a potentially more important and intriguing games on the national scale.

There have been concerns regarding how this deal will affect radio broadcasts of other teams. Would a local team in, say, Wisconsin or North Carolina be pre-empted if their games run at the same time as USC's game? In fact, no.

"The agreement does not require all 300 plus affiliates to carry [every USC home football game]," an ESPN spokesman told Neon Tommy. "There are always local blackouts and conflicts."

An example: if a West Virginia Mountaineers game and a USC home game both started at 3:30 pm Eastern Time, ESPN 970 in Pittsburgh would still be able to air the WVU contest, with whom the station has a rights deal. Fans of local teams need not worry about their home team being glossed over in favor of the Trojans.

T.J. McDonald and Matt Barkley could gain a higher profile with national radio broadcasts. (Neon Tommy)
T.J. McDonald and Matt Barkley could gain a higher profile with national radio broadcasts. (Neon Tommy)
So the benefits for both sides are great. For ESPN, they get a national powerhouse college football team exclusively on their radio network. With the amount of talent USC attracts each year, it's easy to understand why ESPN would want to promote their radio broadcasts with lots of college football stars.

USC is the biggest winner with this contract, though. Getting ESPN, probably the industry with the biggest ties to college football, to broadcast only their home games is a huge statement regarding how dynamic USC football is. After their two-year bowl ban, USC is definitely back to national prominence, and now with ESPN Radio covering their games for multiple years, it guarantees the Trojans will still be a top story even after Matt Barkley leaves.

This will also give Lane Kiffin a huge recruiting advantage with USC football being the only team to have a major network broadcasting their home games on radio, giving future prospects the chance to be seen on television and heard on radio. Combined with the deal that will put Trojans games on a national Pac-12 Network, the money that will come in from the ESPN contract gives USC another chance to improve its athletic department or other facets of the university. 

With ESPN and USC football now together, does this mean that other big networks (like CBS) will try a similar contract with another big time college football team? Time will only tell, but with ESPN clearly taking a step forward into the future, maybe it's time for other big networks to do the same.


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