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The paltry sums that the Atlantic 10 conference will earn from its new TV deal show that there just isn't much money in basketball-first conferences.
The Atlantic 10 announced a new television deal offering its schools a larger platform with more nationally-televised basketball games spread across ESPN, NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports. The move was heralded as a great step forward by pundits at ESPN and CBS, the Atlantic 10 would increase it's television exposure while also moving its conference tournament to New York City's hipster-haven this Spring. Even losing Temple and Charlotte, the A10 is viewed as a winner in conference realignment, bringing in darlings Butler and VCU.
Arguably the best basketball conference without BCS football, the Atlantic 10 schools were clearly looking for a better estimate of their worth in the new broadcast contract as well. That value is still only a fraction of the value paid out to each Big East basketball member -- even DePaul.
According to the Providence Journal, the 14 schools in the conference will split $40 million in television revenue over the length of the eight-year contract. That works out to just $5 million per year or $357,143 per school annually (assuming the full value is distributed 14-ways.
That's still a dramatic increase for the Atlantic 10, which had previously earned about half as much as a single Big East school from television. When the Big East's new television deal is completed, the Big East basketball schools are expecting to earn around $4 million per year each.
Why does Big East basketball have such value?
The Atlantic 10 isn't dramatically behind the Big East in terms of Television markets offered in it's footprint. Both cover the major northeastern and midwestern cities. They also both have recent Final Four competitors and national brands in basketball.
The Big East has a little more history as a conference and basketball brand, but even that has been somewhat diminished by recent departures. The key difference in the Big East's favor is that basketball is tied in with a major football brand -- whether the playoff bowls agree or not (though it sounds like they will get access after all), the Big East football brand is known across the country and that raises the profile in all sports.
Additionally, basketball is sold to the networks in a package deal with football, making it more attractive to networks.
The ProJo's Kevin McNamara has been one of (perhaps the only) media members pushing the theory that the Big East's Catholic schools could split off into their own conference. That theory takes a gigantic hit when you look at the values that television networks place on the no-football product offered by a conference like the Atlantic 10.
Perhaps good feelings and old brand names would carry an eastern Catholic League a bit higher than the Atlantic 10, but without the Louisville's and UConn's of the world and without the offering of high-ratings football to inflate the bidding, the chance of a payout as high as $3- or $4-million -- maybe even $1- or $2-million -- seems rather bleak.
There are always exceptions, but a basketball program with more revenue will be healthier and more competitive over the long-haul. Downgrading basketball revenue would be devastating to Big East programs like Marquette, Georgetown and Villanova, who have been among the nation's highest spenders in recent years.