STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Jean Labutis is 82-years-old and a huge UConn basketball fan.
The retired lawyer, who lives in Manchester, said watching the school’s men’s and women’s teams on television gets her through the winter. She learns about all the players and coaches and never misses a game.
But that may change.
Labutis and many other fans are upset over a new media-rights deal that could force them to pay an added fee to watch those games on ESPN-plus, a direct-to-viewer subscription streaming service, which currently costs $5 a month.
“I don’t know now how to do streaming,” she said. “I’d have to have someone explain it to me. Do you know what I pay for television now? And it’s another $5 on top of that outrageous price. There are a lot of people on fixed incomes who can’t do that.”
The $1 billion, 12-year deal between the American Athletic Conference and ESPN gives the sports media giant the rights to broadcast almost all AAC sporting events.
It calls 40 football games per season airing on ESPN’s linear TV networks, 14 more than in the previous contract. ESPN cable networks also will air at least 65 AAC regular-season men’s basketball games and at least 13 regular-season women’s basketball games per season.
But almost all UConn men’s and women’s games are currently available on cable, many on New York-based SNY as part of a regional media rights deal with the school.
“We understand that the conference has an obligation to make decisions based on what it thinks is most beneficial to our membership as a whole,” UConn said in a statement. “However, based on UConn’s understanding of the deal, there are certain exclusive components which we believe are not in the best interest of our fan base or representative of maintaining and building our brand.”
The 13 schools in the AAC will receive an average of about $7 million a year under the ESPN media rights package, which goes into effect in the 2020-21 school year.
UConn, which last year had a $40 million deficit in its athletic division, currently receives $2.2 million a year in media rights money from the league and another $1.1 million from SNY.
“We have a great relationship with SNY,” UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma said Thursday. “They’ve done a great job for us — better than anyone on the country has done for their teams. So I’m hopeful that something can be worked out to help us continue that relationship.”
ESPN said it is willing to discuss the possibility of entering into a deal that would allow some games to stay on SNY. But both the network and the league said putting content on ESPN-plus is a major part of the agreement.
“As far as we’re concerned, ESPN-plus is the future,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said. “It’s an innovative digital platform that you want to be on. In fact, we still have more coverage on the priority networks of ESPN than we had before.
“But the fact is there are going to be more sports offered on ESPN-plus than ever before. It’s as though we have our own branded network on that platform.”
AP Basketball Writer Doug Feinberg contributed to this report from Albany, New York.