With no fall sports, it can be challenging for coaches and players to remain positive with so much unknown. But recently, the Patriot League announced a multi-year agreement with ESPN, which brought a boost of excitement to the Lehigh athletics community.
Before this partnership, Stadium, the conference’s previous distributor, was the sole home for all live and archived sporting events.
“Our partnership expired, and we went to the market to see what would be the best platform for the Patriot League, its student-athletes, its parents and alums,” said Rich Wanninger, the Patriot League senior associate commissioner for external relations. “We came back with ESPN + being the best match for the league.”
Joe Sterrett, Lehigh’s director of athletics, said part of the decision was seeing what they would get in return if they were switching to a paid model.
“The subscription fees typically go to the company that is doing the distribution and the entity,” Sterrett said. “In this case, the Patriot League is providing its rights and its content and would negotiate a financial range with the distributor.”
Sterrett said one of the things that’s interesting about the partnership is the Patriot League still has a linear TV deal with CBS Sports, which doesn’t end for another three years. This means not every football and men’s and women’s basketball game will air on ESPN+.
Sterrett also said one of the reasons this deal with ESPN is only for three years is because they want to match their digital and linear rights when this partnership expires.
The home school will choose who broadcasts their games.
The one sport who will still have the option for their matches to be aired on the Patriot League Network is wrestling since they are in the EIWA conference.
The partnership is an important way to bring exposure to Lehigh sports and will help benefit these teams when they recruit.
“When I was in high school, I would try and keep up with college basketball, and the easiest way is to go on ESPN and look at scores,” said sophomore guard Reed Fenton. “So if a kid’s doing that and sees Lehigh pop up, I think that will help bring more exposure.”
The partnership will also help fans have greater access to Lehigh sports. Typically, to watch a game, the viewer would have to go on the school’s website to access Stadium. Now, the viewer can click on the ESPN+ app or website and be able to access live events.
“I think it’s a really good opportunity for a lot of people to tune into our games,” said sophomore basketball point guard Jake Betlow. “The Patriot League Network did a good job, but ESPN’s definitely on a different level, so hopefully, my family and anybody who wants to watch will have greater access.”
Wanninger said one of the biggest attributes of this partnership is that it’s a “one-stop-shop.”
“Fans will be able to watch a number of Lehigh games that are on the road, where in the past you’d have to go from one website to another,” he said.
The previous model with Stadium allowed fans to watch for free. ESPN+ subscribers will have to pay $5.99 a month or $49.99 per year, but they will get access to all other live events and more.
Betlow said he doesn’t think the costs will stop people from watching.
“I think anyone who’s excited about Patriot League basketball is going to pay the $5.99,” Betlow said. “You get to watch high-level quality basketball, so I don’t think it will become a major boundary.”
This partnership is not only a huge opportunity for its athletes, but also for Lehigh students who want to work in sports media.
Wanninger said students who want to broadcast or work for a production team will now have the chance to do so.
“Whether they’re behind the camera, in front of the camera, or producing a game, there’s a lot of great things that come about it,” Wanninger said. “It gets them involved in the athletic departments throughout the league, which is a great way to network.”