Tuesday, June 15, 2010


For those of you who don't keep up with college sports, this past week saw three big changes in the world of college athletics with three teams changing their league affiliations: the University of Colorado announced they will move from the Big 12 to the Pac-10 conference effective in 2012, Boise State University announced they will move from the Western Athletic Conference to the Mountain West Conference also in 2012, and the biggest so far was the University of Nebraska-Lincoln announcing they will move from the Big 12 to the Big Ten effective 2011. Rumors are still flying about possible other Big 12 schools leaving for the Pac-10 or Southeastern Conference (SEC) and even more for the Big Ten. For the Big Ten and the Pac-10, the main reasons cited for adding the respective schools to their conferences was the additional markets each school brings to the conference. For the Big Ten, which owns and operates its own television network (Big Ten Network) adding more markets adds additional subscribers which of course adds additional revenues to the conference members. The Pac-10 is hoping to start its own network, so adding Colorado and the Denver market will help boost revenue for that as well. The University of Texas has been discussed for several conferences including the Pac-10, Big Ten, and SEC because it would likely "deliver" several large markets in the state of Texas and boost revenues considerably for whichever conference (including the Big 12 if it survives) takes it.

But that begs the question: what is a market? There are several markets, but here we're talking about media markets. Nielsen Research came up with Designated Market Areas (DMAs) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) follows the Nielsen DMAs in their own market designators (known as Television Market Areas or TMAs). Within the DMA/TMAs are smaller radio markets. In northeastern Ohio, for instance, Kent is part of the Cleveland-Akron (Canton) DMA/TMA. It includes 17 counties in the region. The only part of northeastern Ohio it doesn't include is the Youngstown-Warren area, which is its own DMA. You can usually tell markets by which cities have their own TV stations. The Cleveland-Akron market currently ranks 18th nationally, so it is considered a "mid-sized" market. The size is determined by households within a DMA, so naturally the largest cities in the country are also the largest markets. Within the Cleveland-Akron DMA are three radio markets, which are defined by a research company called Arbitron: Cleveland, Akron, and Canton. For Kent, even though we're officially in the Akron radio market, radio signals don't stop off at borders, so we can easily get stations from the Cleveland, Canton, and Youngstown markets with little problem. On top of that, many of the major and mid-sized radio markets have a high-powered AM station that can be heard well outside its market area. In Cleveland, WTAM 1100 AM can be heard at times in 38 US states and much of Canada. WLW 700 AM in Cincinnati and KSL 1160 AM are other examples I can think of off the top of my head that are also high-powered.

As I've followed the discussions mostly by fans of the various colleges and their respective conferences, the phrase that comes up about a potential school is its ability to "deliver" a particular market. For instance, many believe that if the Big Ten added Rutgers and/or Syracuse then it could potentially "deliver" the New York market (the nation's largest) to the Big Ten Network. By "deliver" it means there is significant interest from the population, enough so that cable companies want to add the Big Ten Network to their basic lineups. The more people who have access to BTN, the more money it gets since cable TV gets their revenue largely from subscription fees instead of advertising like "free" TV does. When it's on a more basic lineup, people get it whether they want it or not, translating into a lot more subscribers. Such is the case in the markets presently served by the Big Ten Network in the states that have member schools: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Within those states are several large and mid-sized DMAs including #3 Chicago, #4 Philadelphia, #11 Detroit, #18 Cleveland-Akron, and #23 Pittsburgh among others. Indeed, one of the biggest arguments against the Big Ten inviting the University of Pittsburgh to join is because while the school has excellent academics and athletics, it does little to add to the Big Ten Network as Penn State already "delivers" the Pittsburgh market to the Big Ten, much like Ohio State already "delivers" the Cincinnati market (University of Cincinnati was also discussed lightly as a possibility by some fans). Because many of the Big Ten schools are large state schools, they have the ability to not only deliver specific markets, but entire states with multiple large markets. Not only does Penn State deliver both of Pennsylvania's largest markets, but Ohio State delivers the Cleveland-Akron DMA and also Columbus (#34), Cincinnati (#33), Dayton (#65), Toledo (#73), and Youngstown (#110). The same holds true for basically every school and state in the Big Ten because they have large alumni bases throughout their respective state and region, plus they have large followings inside their respective states.

With Nebraska joining the Big Ten, though, people have wondered how adding the main school in Nebraska, which has a population of less than 1.8 million people, will add much to the Big Ten Network. Indeed, the largest DMA in Nebraska is Omaha, which is ranked #76 with the Lincoln, Nebraska market down at #105. First, Nebraska generates interest well outside of the state of Nebraska. Their fans travel anywhere for games and their alumni are not restricted to the state of Nebraska. Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if the Big Ten Network were picked up in the Kansas City market (#32) because I would imagine there are quite a few Nebraska alumni there. Still not the huge market many were hoping, but the potential for marquee matchups with fellow Big Ten schools and out-of-conference schools could generate additional subscribers outside the conference "footprint". One need not be an alum of a school to be a fan! Whichever conference lands the University of Texas will likely have the Dallas-Ft. Worth (#5), Houston (#10), Austin (#48), San Antonio (#37) and several smaller markets delivered because like many of the Big Ten schools, Texas has significant interest throughout the entire state.

Really this post was triggered by some comments I read from a well-meaning BYU fan who was talking up why a major conference like the Big 12 (assuming it doesn't implode soon) would want to add a school like BYU. One of the things he cited was the Salt Lake City market, which he correctly stated is ranked 31st in size. Yeah, I know, I pick on Utah a lot on this blog, but in this case I wasn't really looking for it but it just presented itself. Indeed, SLC is the nation's 31st largest DMA. What most people don't seem to understand is that in land area, the Salt Lake DMA coveres the entire state of Utah and includes large chunks of Nevada and Wyoming as well as a few southern Idaho counties, so comparing it with other markets isn't totally accurate. True, the vast majority of the population actually lives in the Wasatch Front (Ogden, Salt Lake, and Provo metro areas), but still if many of the other markets covered the same area Salt Lake does, things would look a lot different. Nielsen estimates approximately 944,060 households in the SLC market. Let's use Ohio as an example. If the Columbus market (which ranks a few notches behind Salt Lake) covered all the markets based in the state (several parts of Ohio are in other markets, plus some markets like Cincinnati extend into other states), it would include 4,136,840 households. So yes, Salt Lake is somewhat of a valuable asset for building revenue and expanding presence, but it isn't nearly as high as some seem to think. BYU could definitely deliever the SLC market, but I think it could also deliver the Las Vegas market because of the large number of Latter-day Saints in metro Las Vegas. Like Notre Dame is America's Catholic university, BYU is the "Mormon" university and thus can draw fairly decently (though not nearly as well as some seem to believe) in many places in the country as many members of the Church will come support the school (I am definitely NOT counted among those!).

Also see:
  • Nielsen Media Market ranks - this ranks all of the DMAs in the US and is the most recent as far as I know
  • Arbitron Media Market map - this map shows the radio and overall media (or TV) markets for the entire country.  The radio markets are colored by size rank and the media markets are outlined in heavy black lines.

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