The Battle For BET and the future of HBCU sports

Returning the iconic African-American brand to black ownership is a real possibility. It could have a tremendous impact overall, and potentially give a huge boost to HBCU sports.

Billionaire black entertainment moguls Tyler Perry, Byron Allen and Sean “Diddy” Combs have a lot in common. One apparently is an interest in buying a majority stake in BET Media Group from Paramount Global – returning it to black ownership.

Each has expressed that sentiment and interest – Diddy Combs in March, Tyler Perry and Byron Allen more recently. The iconic African-American brand, founded by Robert L. “Bob” Johnson and Sheila Johnson in 1980 was sold to Viacom in 2000 for $2.34 billion. It made Bob Johnson the first black billionaire in the U. S.

BET was also the first network to broadcast weekly HBCU football and basketball games nationally after being . Allen’s companies have now assumed that mantle. It has come through his acquisition of HBCUGo.TV and the Black News Channel (BNC) which became TheGrio over the past year.

HBCUGo.TV and The Grio produced and carried 11 HBCU football and 61 HBCU basketball games this past season. That menu will expand in the 2023-24 season.

BET on the block

These reports come as Paramount Global (formerly Viacom), owner of the BET properties, is reportedly exploring a sale of the asset. 

Company CEO Bob Bakish said in March that the properties are up for sale during what he termed, “a renewed push to support Black-owned and controlled media companies.” BET Media Group includes BET, BET+, VH1 and BET Studios, the unit’s production arm. Paramount is shedding assets like BET to pay down debt and to invest in its two-year-old streaming service, Paramount+.

That’s music to the ears and fits right into the strategies of the three black media titans.

How the BET acquisition could effect HBCU sports?

HBCUs have been riding the wings of former Jackson State head coach Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders. His’ dynamic personality has fueled an explosion for HBCUs and HBCU sports over the past two years. Their presence on broadcast and cable television, online and across all social media platforms has followed Sanders’ meteoric rise in the HBCU ranks.

Deion Sanders GMA
Former Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders (third from l.) with (l. to. r.) his son, JSU quarterback Shedeur Sanders, former HBCU and NFL star and now TV personality, Michael Strahan, and Travis Hunter, the nation’s No. 1 recruit that the coach landed at Jackson State. Sanders left JSU after the 2022 football season to become the new coach at Colorado.

It not only boosted the historic Jackson State program to the top of the HBCU football food chain, but made any developments concerning Sanders, his program, comments and accomplishments national news. He became front page news on America’s newspapers and a fixture on national sports outlets.

HBCUs across the board have benefitted. Increased partnerships with the NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball and even the NHL have ensued. Each has staged events that benefit HBCUs and HBCU conferences financially and provided greater exposure. Corporate sponsorships are at an all-time high.

Including BET properties going forward could only expand that reach.

Byron Allen HBCU Go

Byron Allen

Byron Allen has 36 broadcast TV stations, 10 networks, the Weather Channel, TheGrio and HBCUGo.TV as part of his media empire — Entertainment Studios. He in on record planning to invest $10 billion to become “the largest owner of big four network affiliates in America within the next 12 to 24 months.”

“They are running a process and we are part of it,” Allen said of the BET sale in an interview with Bloomberg from the Milken Conference in Los Angeles. “This is just a big opportunity that we are vigorously pursuing.”

With its numerous affiliates across the U. S., TheGrio is reaching nearly 70 million homes. BET is in 125 million homes internationally.

Tyler Perry

Perry told the Hollywood Reporter that he is “beyond interested” in a majority stake in BET.

Perry already has a deal with Paramount. Most of his shows are airing on BET as well as on OWN. He currently is a minority stakeholder in BET.

“Rumor? No, it’s not a rumor,” Perry told Entertainment Tonight. “I’ve been there (with Paramount and BET) for four years now and had tremendous success. I wasn’t expecting this to happen, so, yes … If it’s possible, I’m gonna take as much of it as I can.

“I think there was sadness when Bob sold it, and I think there’ll be happiness when it’s Black-owned again.”

The entrepreneur, actor, playwright and filmmaker owns the expansive, 330-acre Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, one of the largest film studios in the nation. It has been used to produce his TV shows and is noted for the filming of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Black Panther.

Diddy Jackson State Deion Sanders
Diddy gives the commencement speech at Howard University.

Sean “Diddy” Combs

Diddy is the founder of REVOLT TV, a digital channel that bills itself as “Unapologetically Hip Hop News and Entertainment.” REVOLT has found success with shows such as Drink Champs, Careasha Please and Kingdom Culture with T. D. Jakes.

Combs also founded Bad Boy Records. He said, “It’s time for BET to be black-owned again so we have the power to tell our own stories, control our own narrative! This is not about me it’s about WE!!!!”

Diddy attended Howard University. Back in 2022, he pledged to give $1 million to Howard University and Jackson State football. We haven’t heard much about that pledge since then. Maybe he’s saving his coins for something bigger.

The Battle For BET and the future of HBCU sports
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