When word started circulating that Rutgers might be the 14th team in the Big Ten, many in the sports business world were baffled.
The thinking is that, due to its proximity to New York City, Rutgers could give the Big Ten and its television network a stronghold in the nation's top market.
But some people in the business of sports television don't believe that.
"Sports writers are always looking for some excuse to bring the New York audience into a story," said Barry Frank, executive vice president of IMG Media, an industry veteran whose last college television negotiation included a $1.86 billion deal between the ACC and ESPN. "Rutgers attracts no interest in the New York market. They don't rate enough to matter."
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany declined to comment on Rutgers while speaking to reporters Monday about Maryland joining the conference.
A New York Times blog published last year by statistician Nate Silver estimated that the New York City market has 607,157 Rutgers fans. Bill Nielsen, vice president of Scarborough Sports Marketing, said those numbers seem accurate based on data his company has compiled.
According to Scarborough research, 11 percent of the New York City population considers themselves avid fans of college football, compared to 21 percent of the general U.S. population. That’s 73rd out of 77 markets, on a percentage basis, that Scarborough measures. But when broken down by number of people, it’s 1.8 million people, which is second among U.S. cities. Nielsen's data shows that New York City has 1.4 million Rutgers fans and about 45 percent of them -- 609,900 fans -- are avid fans of the team.
“If you want to try to get the New York market, you have no other option,” Nielsen said. “It’s really the only major-sized university that’s close that plays Division I football and basketball. Does Rutgers give you the penetration that Ohio State does in Columbus? Of course not. But this is more about the market than the team.”
Ed Desser of Desser Sports Media, who negotiated the Los Angeles Lakers television deal with Time Warner reportedly worth $3 billion, isn’t convinced.
"Rutgers might bring a small pocket of central New Jersey, but college football is not a New York-area sport,” Desser said. “What we’re talking about here is, is there enough interest in New York for Rutgers to get a person to change their cable carrier if that carrier won’t carry the Big Ten Network? I don’t think so. Rutgers belongs in the also mentioned category in a market that includes the Yankees and the Knicks.”
Rutgers -- and Maryland, for that matter -- is valuable because it adds teams. That gives the Big Ten a chance to reopen its TV deal with ESPN and make a good-faith effort to address the increased value of the new teams before the conclusion of the deal in 2017.
The true money for the Big Ten Network is for the Rutgers fan base to drive carriers to put the Big Ten Network on its basic tier so it can automatically generate subscriber fees for every customer even if they have no interest in the channel. But New York is not an easy market. Cablevision battled in a price war for two years with the Yankees and didn’t show the entire 2002 season. Time Warner didn’t air a month and a half of Knicks, Rangers and Islanders games to its 2 million customers in the New York area last season after negotiating with the MSG Network.
Frank, who likely has negotiated more sports television deals than anyone, says he doesn’t buy the data that speaks of Rutgers popularity in New York City.
“Call a bookie in New York City and ask them how many bets they took on Rutgers,” Frank said. “That will give you an idea of how popular they are.”