Big East Conference Hire Bevilacqua Helfant Ventures to Negotiate TV Contracts

By Community | August 14, 2012

The Big East conference today announced it has hired Bevilacqua Helfant Ventures to be the lead negotiator through the upcoming negotiations for a new television contract.

The firm is led by Chris Bevilacqua, one of the most prominent figures in the television sports industry, whose background lends credence to the fact the conference is acting to maximize its value. Bevilacqua led negotiations for the Pac-12 in landing its 12-year, $3 billion TV — as well as the Pac-12 network that will launch this week.

“If one believes that past performance is the best predictor of future performance, we have tremendous confidence in our selection of Chris Bevilacqua to be our lead negotiator,” interim commissioner Joe Bailey said in a statement.

Bevilacqua will lead the Big East into an environment where sports teams and leagues selling broadcast rights have earned extraordinary sums. Earlier this year the ACC revamped its contract with ESPN, after adding Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the conference, and scored an annual outlay of $17.1 million per school. Rights for other sports entities have ballooned, as well. Bevilacqua was also responsible for the deal that netted the Texas Rangers $3 billion over a 20-year span, according to reports.

The Big East has persevered through tumultuous times over the last 18 months. It lost members in Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia — as well as TCU, which had agreed to join but left for the Big 12 before playing a game. It has reconstructed itself, adding Boise State, Central Florida, Temple, SMU, San Diego State, Houston, and Memphis.

That allows the conference, in Bevilacqua’s opinion, to have solid footing in the marketplace as it begins negotiations.

“They are, I think, in a very good position in that the value of live scarce intellectual property sports rights are only going up,” he said. “In this case they’re the last conference franchise into the market for a long, long time. The timing is actually very good. Hard to predict – I don’t have a crystal ball — the actual outcome. I can tell you with great certainty there will always be a lot of buyers for valuable live sports rights and there’s only one Big East conference, that’s typically a very good place.

“There’s a scarcity element to here on top of the fact the media ecosystem is placing a premium nowadays on live sports rights. I think there will be a very favorable opportunity in front of the Big East. It’s not just going to depend on how well they think about strategically approaching the market and all of their packing they might consider. Obviously, the relationship with ESPN has been a long time important partner and they have to have some discussion with them. All of this is prospective.”

Beginning Sept. 1, the Big East will enter a 60-day exclusive negotiating window with ESPN, the cable sports network the conference is currently tied to. According to a report, the conference rejected a deal with the network last year that would have netted them $1.17 billion over nine years. Bevilacqua would not disclose whether there is pressure to finish a deal with ESPN within the allotted window.

“ESPN is an important partner and they have certain rights,” he said. “It’s been well documented that they have first negotiation window and the conference will treat that seriously and honor all of those obligations.”

There has been wide-ranging speculation as to how much the Big East may be able to receive in its next deal. A New York Daily News report said that the conference may be able to receive $10 million per football school and an additional $4 million per basketball school from NBC. A report said that it may only be able to get $50 million annually.

“I haven’t frankly paid much attention to that,” Bevilacqua said of the forecasting. “I’m not sure where they are coming from. Usually when someone is putting out numbers this early, someone has got some kind of agenda. I’m not going to get engaged in that conversation now.”

Bevilacqua expects the new commissioner to be “very engaged” in the process. As for any insight on what to expect for the conference’s eventual value, the answer is very pro forma.

“The marketplace will determine that,” Bevilacqua said.