The Pioneer Football League Needs Some Caffeine (TV)

The Pioneer Football League is the only FCS conference without a media deal. Could an upstart sports streamer enter the picture?

The Pioneer Football League lacks a media deal.
Source: Stetson Today

Over the weekend, the Indoor Football League (IFL) received an energy boost of caffeine--Caffeine TV. The alternative football league partnered with the fledging streaming platform to simulcast their games along with YouTube. Weeks after partnering with LIV Golf, Caffeine TV gets access to a sought-after media inventory. Partnering with a league like the IFL, which had CBS Sports Network pay for the rights to its title game, is significant for its credibility. Caffeine TV, which is free to use, is now positioned to enter the college athletics landscape.

An ideal partner exists with the Pioneer Football League. The Pioneer Football League is the FCS' forgotten league, an alliance of 11 schools in the conference to preserve their Division I status in Olympic sports. The league is often an afterthought to FCS fans, and the lack of a media deal conveys this.

All 11 Pioneer Football League schools have their home games aired by the media partners of their Olympic sports partners or produces and broadcasts them independently. For instance, Drake and San Diego air their football games on ESPN+ due to the Missouri Valley Conference (Drake) and West Coast Conference (San Diego) media deal with ESPN. Davidson streams select games on their website behind a paywall, while Dayton streams games on Facebook Live.

If there is a "primary" broadcast partner of the Pioneer Football League, it would be ESPN+. The streaming service airs home games of nine of the eleven schools in the league. However, the Pioneer Football League likely does not receive additional revenue from ESPN+. Streams on the platform are an extension of the media rights of member schools' Olympic sports homes.

Typically, association with ESPN+ is beneficial due to the consolidation of content. For this reason, the CAA's deal with Flosports is suboptimal because it provides another monetary barrier to entry for casual college football fans. The CAA's relative brand-name recognition makes its Flosports deal disadvantageous.

The Pioneer Football League does not have nearly as much brand power as the CAA. Consequently, a free-of-charge streaming platform makes more sense as a streaming partner for two reasons.

  1. Most college football fans are too distracted by other content on ESPN+ to pay attention to Pioneer Football League games on the platform. Few college football fans subscribe to ESPN+ for the sole purpose of watching Pioneer League Football.
  2. The Pioneer Football League has nothing to lose. A free streaming service is an ingenious way to market the conference's product.

The Pioneer Football League needs exposure. Caffeine TV could provide it. The last thing a league struggling from a lack of exposure like the Pioneer Football League needs is a monetary barrier to entry. Not only could Caffeine TV provide a free-of-charge platform to air PFL games, but they could also market the league significantly during broadcasts of IFL games and LIV Golf Tournaments.

The Pioneer Football League has nothing to lose from a monetary and exposure standpoint. Caffeine TV could energize the league. Two programs would benefit the most from a media deal with Caffeine TV, Butler and St. Thomas. Since the Big East has a media deal with Flosports, they stream Butler football home games. St. Thomas streams home games on MidCo Sports Plus due to being Summit League members in other sports.

Butler and St. Thomas arguably receive the lowest exposure of any PFL team due to the lack of football inventory depth on Flosports and Midco Sports Plus, compared to ESPN+. Caffeine TV could significantly increase the exposure of those two teams substantially.

Finally, a media deal with Caffeine TV could improve the league's financial standing. The lack of a media deal puts the PFL at a revenue disadvantage compared to the rest of the FCS. The money from a media deal could pay for minor facility upgrades that could improve recruiting in the league. Additionally, media deal money could aid with travel in the league. The conference extends from New York to California to Florida. Any revenue could decrease the strain felt by schools.

Revenue from a Caffeine TV media deal could also offset revenue the PFL misses by not playing FBS schools. Due to not offering scholarships, the PFL rarely plays FBS schools. The PFL does play guarantee games against FCS schools, but these games are not nearly as lucrative. Morehead State received $270,000 in 2021 from two games against Austin Peay and then-CAA member James Madison. The revenue from these two games combined was higher than only four FBS vs. FCS games in 2021. Media revenue is crucial in the absence of FBS-guarantee games.

The Pioneer Football League has long been behind their FCS counterparts. A Caffeine TV deal will not make them the preeminent conference in the FCS, but its benefits would be wide-ranging. For a league with nothing to lose, some Caffeine could invigorate the league.