While other politicians are off slipping pork barrel riders into legislation and being bought off by special interests, Congressman John Dingell is a man of the people. The Democrat from Michigan, and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman is focusing his own energy towards matters that truly affect the people. And to that end, Dingell did what any modern man would do: he wrote a letter. In a letter to Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney, Dingell said that he was concerned about the ability of fans to watch their favorite Big Ten sporting events on the new Big Ten Network, debuting this summer.
Dingell said that many constituents have expressed worries about being able to watch their beloved University of Michigan football games because none of the state's cable operators will be carrying the cable station.
But Dingell's constituents shouldn't worry. Michigan is a top team, and last season all 13 of its games were broadcast on either free TV, or widely available cable channels (read: ESPN). The real fans at risk to lose out are those die-hard fans for the lower rung teams like Indiana and Northwestern. Their games have long been broadcast on local channels through ESPN Plus, but now their broadcasts are up in the air. What will happen to them?
Dingell makes the point that with the exception of Northwestern, all Big Ten teams are public institutions, with every aspect of the games and programs being funded by the taxpayer. Yet its the same taxpayer that is set to lose out:
The free broadcasts of football and basketball games might not make the most money for the conference, but they enable the taxpayer the ability to enjoy what their money has provided. College sports provide a touchstone, not only for a school or alumni group, but also for an entire state and have become, over the years, a public good and part of our common culture.The Big Ten Network is an integral example of the next evolution in sports revenue started by the likes of the Yankees and their YES Network. Why should teams just license out their broadcast rights and forfeit the lush advertising money that it brings in? And in the areas where there is a demand for it, it will succeed. And that's just what the Big Ten intends to do with their network.
But rather than take the hard-line approach that the NFL Network took and lose, the league might want to take a softer approach. Like the NFL Network, the best games aren't going to be shown on the Network anyway. They'll still be on ESPN and ABC. You just can't get top dollar for lower tiered games, and the Big Ten Network should be wary of offending the deep seated loyalties that runs through the Big Ten, and college football. Dingell's got a point here, and it will be interesting to see what happens when the Big Ten Network starts broadcasting this Fall.