When Conference USA initially announced their new deal with ESPN centered around a big chunk of content being picked up by ESPN+ and ESPN3, my initial gut reaction was to cringe. I thought “oh man, we’re really going to head back to the Worldwide Leader and shove most of it behind a paywall?”
I was frustrated. But then, a voice of reason shone through.
See, in order to accurately appreciate this deal I needed this smack in the ear to remember the annoyance that was CUSA.tv.
Less than two years ago, the conference’s catch-all online streaming network for the content that wasn’t appearing on linear networks, and it wasn’t cheap, but what other option was there? Fans could pay $7 for a 24-hour pass or $11 a month for year-round access (with a discount to $8 a month if you bought the year in advance).
It quickly became apparent that this was only a good option due to there being literally no other option for these bottom tier football games and non-revenue sport contests. I have fond memories of attempting to watch Louisiana Tech’s football game at UAB last season, only to discover that CUSA.tv was doing nothing but providing a simulcast of the feed that was being aired on the scoreboard – my buddy aiming his camera phone at the JumboTron would have done the same quality job for free.
I wasn’t the only one:
Or when it came round to basketball season:
The big hope here is that, if nothing else, ESPN will absolutely not tolerate situations like what I just described at UAB. Doing a straight-up scoreboard feed was all a number of schools would bother to do on a number of occasions, and ESPN strictly enforces minimum production standards that I would assume are above that bar.
Also, fans benefit financially as ESPN+ is only $5 a month, so this actually allows them to see all of the same CUSA content they were seeing a year prior, while paying $72 a year less than they were before.
I rescind my earlier skepticism and state that this is a big win. Fans will have to spend less money to watch all of their favorite teams going forward, *should* get improved production quality for that content, and as a bonus CUSA has their foot back in the ESPN door should that become relevant in future dealings.
Of course, there’s been no official announcement of the end of CUSA.tv, but it’s surely on the horizon. They will now have little to no revenue sport content to broadcast, and fans sure as hell are not about to pay any money for the sports that are left.