Catholic 7 meeting with FOX Sports representatives in New York

The COO of Fox Sports, Larry Jones, along with a legal representative will meet with Neal Pilson, of Pilson Communications and Joe Leccese, a co-chair of law firm Proskauer Rose's sports department (and 1982 Georgetown Alum), today in Manhattan. The discussions will be preliminary, but could be a first step toward the Catholic 7 signing off on a new television contract with the Newscorp-owned broadcaster.

The C7 Presidents and ADs will not be present at the meeting today, according to Sports Illustrated, but had retained Pilson and Leccese's firms to represent them last week. The league will likely need to firmly establish its membership and launch date before any contract could be finalized.

The launch date could be as soon as next season if the Catholic 7 can negotiate their exit from the Big East and if Fox or another television partner is motivated to get started. Fox is aiming to launch Fox Sports 1 sometime in Fall 2013.

Fox is hoping to transform the well-distributed (though not as well as ESPN) SPEED Network into an all-sports network, likely to be called Fox Sports 1, but to do that successfully, they will need a substantial amount of live sports content. The cable sports network has not been officially announced or reported at this point, but it is an expected move.

Fox recently obtained an ownership interest in the New York Yankees' wildly-successful regional sports network, YES, and has other regional networks in Detroit, Ohio, California, the Southwest, Midwest, South, Upper Midwest, Florida, covering much of the country. They have also been the partner of the Big Ten conference, owning a piece of the Big Ten Network as well. Those stakes may allow the Fox national network to offer content from Major League baseball as well as the Big Ten conference as well.

The Catholic 7 could potentially offer a large inventory of basketball games during January and February to help Fox fill its airwaves.

Fox still needs to complete a carriage contract with Comcast, the nation's biggest cable provider, before their new network will be ready for launch. That deal is expected this month, barring setbacks.

A 12-year deal is the preference of the Catholic school Presidents, according to SI, who reports that the amount the schools will receive annually is "believed to be in the neighborhood of $3 million per school" -- less than an earlier report -- though the final amount could be more or less depending on the terms agreed to.

The SI report also notes that the league will likely consist of 12 schools, though it isn't yet clear whether they will launch with that many or start with 10 and plan to expand later. More schools, especially with name-brands, will offer more inventory content to the new network, and would likely be more valuable to them.

Xavier and Butler remain favorites to be a part of the league, while Creighton, Dayton and St. Louis are also in the mix, but SI reports that VCU has emerged as a strong candidate in recent weeks. Catholic 7 athletic directors have been adamant that their league would not be a parochial one, and the addition of VCU would offer some basketball strength as well as breaking that mold.

If the C7 ultimately agrees to work with Fox, fans will have to hope that the new network's ability to pick up otherwise-regional MLB games featuring the Yankees, Dodgers, Angels, Braves, Cardinals and others, will propel the network into a major player in the cable sports game. It may also be possible for Fox to air some games on its over-the-airwaves network to sweeten the deal and ensure major national exposure, though it hasn't yet been reported that that arrangement is on offer.

In the end, $3 million annually would be a good increase for the Catholic 7 that allows them to keep up with inflation, though it would be less than they were hoping for from the old Big East conference at the outset of television negotiations there. A $5 million annual payout for those schools, as had been reported earlier, would be a substantial raise in value.

Of course, Fox won't be the only bidder. CBS Sports Network, with half the distribution of ESPN, has also expressed interest in the league, according to USA Today, and NBC Sports Network is expected to get involved as well. So far, the largest player in sports programming, ESPN, remains on the sidelines, however.

Update 1/10 - An ESPN report confirms most of the above, adding that the C7 would have a 12-member league under the above deal with Fox and would receive at least double their current average payout of around $1.5 million annually. C7 officials have also apparently begun the process of discussing candidates for league commissioner. They still apparently are considering offering a lower payout to the five invited members, a move that the Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy has criticized.

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