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Conference USA Strikes New Deal With ESPN, CBS Sports Featuring Mid-Week Football Games

“Obviously, revenue is important, but what kept coming up with our membership was exposure.”

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Conference USA has agreed to a new five-year media partnership with ESPN and CBS Sports that will see the league continue to air football and basketball games with its previous partners with one noticeable shift: the conference’s football games in the month of October will primarily be played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

The move mirrors what the Mid-American Conference calls “MACtion” during the month of November when it plays the majority of it’s conference schedule on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for increased national exposure.

“Obviously, revenue is important, but what kept coming up with our membership was exposure,” Conference USA Commissioner Judy MacLeod told Sports Business Journal. “How do we maximize our potential and move forward? … This is our chance to prove ourselves and then hopefully we’ll go back to the market (in five years) and increase our value.”

CBS secured the “tier one” rights for the conference, giving it the selection of 18 football and basketball games throughout the season. Additionally, CBS will air the conference’s football championship game, the men’s basketball tournament championship game, and the women’s basketball tournament semifinals and finals.

“We really liked is there are championships involved here,” said CBS Sports Executive Vice President of Programming Dan Weinberg. “That’s always the goal at CBS Sports to crown champions, and we’ve got several in this deal. … Another point that we liked was the deal retains our status as the league’s primary partner.”

The conference’s mid-week football games will be shared between the ESPN trio of ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU, while CBS will air its portion of games on CBS Sports Network. Sources told Sports Business Journal each conference member would make roughly $750,000 per year from the new deal.

Conference USA will add Liberty, Jacksonville State, New Mexico State, Sam Houston State, and Kennesaw State to the conference over the next two years. They’ll join existing members Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee State, Western Kentucky, and UTEP for a 10-team conference.

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Space City Home Network to Debut in Houston Tuesday

The rebranded regional sports network has been acquired by the Houston Astros and the Houston Rockets from Warner Bros. Discovery.

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A photo of the Space City Home Network logo
Courtesy: Space City Home Network

Space City Home Network, previously known as AT&T SportsNet Southwest, will debut in Houston Tuesday.

The rebranded regional sports network has been acquired by the Houston Astros and the Houston Rockets from Warner Bros. Discovery, with the two professional sports teams joining forces to form their own cable outlet. Both the Rockets and Astros have long held an interest in acquiring the network. A report from March of this year claimed the two franchises were working alongside WBD to gain control of the cable channel.

“The change will be a seamless transition for fans as they will be able to continue to access Rockets and Astros games on the same channels they currently utilize,” the Astros said in a statement. “The network will be owned by the Rockets and Astros going forward and will operate as a joint venture of the two organizations.”

“We’ve had a strong relationship with the talent and staff at AT&T SportsNet in broadcasting Rockets games over the years and are excited to have that live on as Space City Home Network,” said Rockets President of Business Operations Gretchen Sheirr.  “We’ve worked alongside the Astros and network personnel to ensure this will be a smooth changeover for our fans and look forward to the positive impact this collaboration and local ownership will have on our broadcast.”

The first live game broadcast will take place on Wednesday, October 10th, as the Rockets will open their preseason schedule against the Indiana Pacers. The Houston Astros will make their debut on the network in 2024.

Space City Home Network launches just days before the Astros begin their quest to win back-to-back World Series championships. The Astros will face the winner of the Minnesota Twins/Toronto Blue Jays series in the American League Divisional Series later this month.

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NBC Adding Jordan Cornette, Zora Stephenson, Noah Eagle to Big Ten Basketball Coverage

Peacock will exclusively carry up to 47 men’s basketball games and 30 women’s basketball games, varying between conference and non-conference matchups.

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Jordan Cornette; Zora Stephenson; Noah Eagle
Jordan Cornette – Courtesy: ESPN Images | Zora Stephenson - Courtesy: Milwaukee Bucks | Noah Eagle - Courtesy: Stroll Magazine

Last week, Andrew Marchand of The New York Post reported that Robbie Hummel would be leaving ESPN to contribute analysis on NBC Sports and FOX Sports’ coverage of Big Ten basketball. The Post now reports that he will be joined by several other established sports media personalities as the property reorganizes.

Jordan Cornette, a former college basketball analyst with ESPN and the ACC Network, will be joining NBC Sports as a studio analyst for Big Ten men’s basketball games. Cornette was laid off by ESPN as part of its round of talent cuts earlier this summer after spending almost five years with the network.

Additionally, he hosted an ESPN Radio program alongside his wife, ESPN host and reporter Shae Peppler Cornette.

Zora Stephenson will serve as the lead play-by-play announcer on Peacock, expanding her role with NBC Sports. She has previously been on the call for Milwaukee Bucks games and currently serves as the sideline reporter for the network’s presentation of Notre Dame football. Stephenson played collegiate basketball at Elon University.

Lastly, Noah Eagle will retain his role as the lead play-by-play announcer on Big Ten coverage, joining the basketball package throughout the season. Eagle currently serves as the voice of B1G Saturday Night and will also be calling several Brooklyn Nets games on YES Network throughout the season. Eagle, 25, is largely thought of as a rising star in the media industry, and his father, Ian, is set to become the new lead voice of the Final Four for CBS and TBS.

As part of the deal, Peacock will exclusively carry up to 47 men’s basketball games and 30 women’s basketball games, varying between conference and non-conference matchups. NBCUniversal reportedly pays the conference $350 million per year for broadcast rights, which includes a presentation of the Big Ten Football Championship Game in 2026.

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NESN’s Kevin Youkilis Gives Emotional Tribute to Tim Wakefield

Youkilis played with the Red Sox for eight seasons alongside Wakefield, who died Sunday after a bout with brain cancer.

Jordan Bondurant

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A photo of Kevin Youkilis
Courtesy: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox | Getty Images

The baseball world was saddened on Sunday to learn that beloved former pitcher and humanitarian Tim Wakefield had passed away at the age of 57. NESN analyst Kevin Youkilis memorialized his former teammate on the air after the announcement of his death.

Wakefield was a two-time World Series champion with the Boston Red Sox known for his knuckleball. He also won the Roberto Clemente Award in 2010, given annually to the MLB player who best embodies community spirit.

Wakefield was also a studio analyst for NESN and had been in that role since 2012.

Kevin Youkilis on Sunday afternoon’s season finale broadcast in Baltimore reflected on the life of a wonderful person and teammate.

“He was a great competitor when he took that mound,” Youkilis said. “He was just a great teammate and just a great friend.”

“I had the luxury to play with him on the field, in the booth, and I’m just glad that I had the opportunity over the years to be alongside him,” he added. “And just an amazing husband, father, and a community leader. He really enjoyed people. He really enjoyed being around people, and today we lost one of the good ones.”

Broadcast partner Dave O’Brien concurred wholeheartedly.

“A very, very special guy,” he said. “He was just 57 years old. The condolences, of course, are pouring in. We thank all of you. And God bless the Wakefield family.”

MLB on FOX analyst and another former Red Sox teammate David Ortiz paid tribute to his former teammate on Instagram on Sunday, writing about how heartbroken he is.

“I can’t describe what you mean to me and my family,” Ortiz wrote. “My heart is broken right now because I will never be able to replace a brother and a friend like you.”

“Wake embodied true goodness; a devoted husband, father, and teammate, beloved broadcaster, and the ultimate community leader,” the Red Sox said in a statement. “He gave so much to the game and all of Red Sox Nation.”

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