The speculation regarding Sacred Heart and Merrimack is over with the release of the 2024 Northeast Conference football schedule. The release lists neither as members. Except for a few non-conference games involving NEC members, there is no mention of them in the release, period.
Naturally, FCS fans wonder who will fill Merrimack and Sacred Heart's schedules. Yet, the lack of a conference also brings the question of who will broadcast both schools' games. The Northeast has multiple regional sports networks (RSNs) and even local over-the-air networks willing to air live college sports.
SNY looks like a frontrunner to air Sacred Heart football games this fall, given the conference's long-standing partnership with the Northeast Conference. The television home of the New York Mets broadcasted its first NEC football games last year when they aired LIU's games against Merrimack and Wagner on tape-delay.
As noted on this website, SNY is a leader in broadcasting FCS football in the Northeast, having deals to air Fordham, Monmouth, and Columbia football. Content consolidation is more vital than ever for RSNs, with more facing financial troubles and some ceasing to exist. Adding another school's home games to their inventory makes them more attractive to over-the-top providers like Hulu Live TV and YouTube TV. Adding Sacred Heart home football games to SNY makes FCS football fans in the Northeast less likely to juggle subscriptions with ESPN+ or FloSports to get their fill of FCS football in the region.
Local Connecticut network WFSB is a viable local TV option for Sacred Heart. The Pioneers are no strangers to WFSB, with the local network airing their 2023 season finale against Nutmeg State counterpart UConn. WFSB could be an ideal TV spot for Sacred Heart. The network is an affiliate of CBS, meaning they can arrange for Sacred Heart games to be lead-in programming for 3:30 ET Big Ten games. This association with arguably the most powerful conference in college football could land Sacred Heart more local viewers.
Like SNY, NESN can establish its influence as a Northeastern college football broadcaster by adding one of the two Northeast independents. NESN has deals with Dartmouth, Brown, and Harvard to simulcast select home games with an ESPN+ stream. Merrimack can strengthen NESN's draw to TV providers by adding more content, especially marquee games.
This year, the Warriors will welcome Dartmouth and Maine to North Andover, two relevant programs in New England. NESN has a chance to entice subscribers through exclusivity, something they do not have in their deals with the Ivy League. Additionally, NESN has a greater reach than SNY. The Red Sox and Bruins' home territory covers all of New England. Chances are, if you are a sports fan in New England, you have access to NESN. Dartmouth, Harvard, and Brown wisely moved some of their home games to NESN because more New Englanders likely have access to NESN and do not subscribe to ESPN+.
Merrimack could substantially increase its footprint by airing games exclusively on NESN. The Warriors can serve as the lead-in for late-season Red Sox games or early Bruins games, significantly increasing their exposure.
What About FloSports?
FloSports is also in the mix. As the second most significant subscription service for college athletics, FloSports is always looking to strengthen its portfolio. Conference realignment quietly hurt the streaming service. New Mexico State joining Conference USA took away one of its flagship programs, while UMass bolting for an ESPN deal made matters worse. FloSports depends heavily on the Coastal Athletic Association, with some Division II conferences adding diversity to their portfolio.
FloSports should pursue Sacred Heart and Merrimack to give their service more value. They are losing college sports' streaming wars due to an inflated price compared to ESPN+ ($29.99/month vs. $11.99/month) and a much smaller portfolio. Sacred Heart and Merrimack are far from name-brand football programs, but Flosports can corner more Northeastern football fans. Doing this is much needed with Delaware's departure to Conference USA.
Sacred Heart and Merrimack are in the unenviable position of figuring out independent life in just seven months. The challenge of finding a television/streaming partner is daunting. However, the Pioneers and Warriors have multiple options that could benefit them in the long run.