This Andy Staples piece on how the relationship between television and college football has developed since the courts tossed out the NCAA’s control of broadcast rights is a must read. He does a brilliant job of showing how the schools have slowly come to realize the power they have in the marketplace and how ESPN anticipated where the market was headed sooner than its competitors did and used that awareness to build its broadcast empire.
But it’s his where-things-are-going conclusion that should really make you think:
Money and technology remain the wild cards. The NFL rakes in such huge sums because it is a single seller. It is the only entity selling elite professional football. There are five sellers (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC) of elite college football. That holds prices down somewhat. Will those leagues someday merge and sell their media rights as a single entity for an even more astronomical sum? They did it as the BCS for postseason games, and they’ll do it again with the playoff. If they ever chose to pool regular-season rights, they’d be the CFA all over again. The Pac-12’s Scott sees significant barriers to that, but with college sports still undervalued relative to their earning potential, anything is possible. [Emphasis added.] “It would be no small undertaking,” Scott said. “But I’ve said for some time that I do see — over time — you’ll see further consolidation of conferences or more consolidation for how rights are sold. As there is more sophistication in the college space, you realize that value for schools is left on the table because of fragmentation. I think markets tend to correct.”
Anybody who doesn’t see D-1 football being radically restructured in the next decade or so is being naive. There’s simply too much money not to.