Fox Sports has a lot on the line in their now two-year-old upstart cable sports network, Fox Sports 1. The broadcaster is following ESPN's model and buying its way into the preseason tournament market with two events to be held in Las Vegas, according to Sports Business Daily.
The Las Vegas Classic and Las Vegas Invitational will now be run by FS 1 -- this isn't simply a media-rights purchase, the broadcaster will run everything that the tournament has to offer, from ticket sales, to sponsorships, to team selections, in addition to television production and broadcasting. With full control, the network will hope to profit from offering schools a lucrative spot in these events.
The model follows one created by ESPN, who own and operate nine college basketball events in a similar fashion (they also operate 13 college football games). There are more than 40 of these multi-team events currently operating; their numbers exploding since an NCAA rule change allowed programs to participate in one every season.
Continental Tire has signed on as the title sponsor for both FS1 tournaments.
"Because of our ownership of the event, it gives us the ability to deliver pretty good college basketball content to Fox Sports 1 and potentially Fox Sports 2 without paying for it and, hopefully, making a little bit of money on it," Shell told SBD.
Since Fox Sports 1 also owns the television rights to the Big East Conference, don't be surprised if the league's top teams start to feel some pressure to participate in the two Las Vegas tournaments -- or any others that join the Fox family. The network will likely hope to use these events to add value to their regular-season Big East basketball offerings -- and they could use their Big East connection to add some interesting match-ups to the fields' of these network-owned tournaments.
Fox Sports 1 has had abysmal ratings early in the basketball season, and getting their Big East teams off of ESPN and other networks during the holiday-tournament season can only help.
For 2015, however, the fields are already set for the Orleans Arena, with teams participating including California, West Virginia, SDSU, Richmond, SMU, Colorado, Penn State and Kent State. In the future, both fields could be "spruced up" by participation from Big East teams that are known for their basketball branding.
Of course, a stronger Big East would be necessary to make participation an annual thing. A school can't participate in any tournament more than once every few years, and a field cannot (without a waiver) feature more than one school from any given conference. That said, expect the Big East schools to start appearing in Law Vegas' November and December tournaments in the near future.
Butler has already committed to the Las Vegas Invitational for 2016. Perhaps Villanova or Georgetown could be courted for the Las Vegas Classic in 2016?
The format of both tournaments involves bigger name schools playing two home games before heading to Sin City for the semifinals and finals, similar to this season's Legends Classic format. Every team gets four games under their belt by the end of the event and maximizes the size of their schedule under NCAA rules.
The Wildcats are scheduled to play in the NIT Season Tip-Off in 2015.