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DOJ Eyeing ESPN’s College Deals?

6/28/2004 6:42 AM Eastern

ESPN may be the subject of a Department of Justice inquiry into how the sports giant acquires and deploys some of its college-basketball and football programming.

The New York Times reported June 27 that a pair of unidentified television executives said the DOJ’s antitrust division may be looking into how ESPN inks deals with various college conferences and then only airs a small percentage of those contests. In turn, the conferences are then precluded from making deals with other networks, according to the report.

ESPN declined to comment, while DOJ officials did not return phone calls by press time.

College-sports TV rights have certainly drawn their share of headlines in recent weeks. Multichannel News reported May 10 that ESPN had been evaluating whether to create a new channel -- possibly named “ESPN U” -- and at one point was preparing to announce it at the National Show in New Orleans before deciding not to.

Also last month, College Sports Television and Fox Sports Net offered differing views on the impetus behind the latter’s decision to covert its three Fox Sports Digital out-of-market services into college sports-themed channels.

ESPN holds national cable-exclusive rights to college-football games from the Southeast Conference, Big Ten, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big East, Conference USA, Mountain West and Western Athletic Conference, as well as college-basketball rights to more than one-dozen conferences.

Broadcast brethren ABC is also in the college-football and college-basketball market. And ESPN holds assorted syndication and pay-per-view TV rights.

Other networks are also in the mix, if not to the depth of ESPN.

In addition to providing regional coverage via its affiliate base, FSN holds national rights to Pacific 10 college-football and basketball games, as well as Big 12 college-football contests. FSN also holds exclusive Sunday-night rights to ACC college-basketball games.

TBS currently holds rights to a primetime Saturday package featuring contests from the Pac 10 and Big 12 conferences.

CBS and NBC also cover various college-football and basketball action.

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