Even if it isn’t readily apparent to the rest of us…
That Bob Bowlsby is a genius, amirite?
Brunch is served.
Eh, there are always a few tasty morsels ready to fill the chafing dishes.
Geez, what a mess.
The Big 12’s TV partners are pushing back on the conference’s plans to expand.
ESPN and Fox Sports believe that expansion with schools from outside the power five conferences will water down the Big 12 and make it less valuable, not more, sources said. But the Big 12 is financially motivated to add more teams. A clause in the conference’s media deals stipulate that if the Big 12 expands, it would receive pro rata increases in its rights fees.
The original deals pay $2.6 billion over 13 years, or about $20 million per school annually. Expansion by two schools, theoretically, would force ESPN and Fox combined to pay an additional $40 million per year in rights fees. Expansion by four teams could mean another $80 million per year.
Both networks, according to sources, are digging their heels in against paying those kinds of increases based on expansion with schools outside the power five.
In other words, the networks just aren’t that into your conference, Bob. (Not that you’re commenting publicly about it.) Especially when expansion boils down to nothing more than short-term greed.
The drive to expand is fueled by the opportunity to almost immediately generate more money for its schools. The conference’s TV deals run through 2024-25 and the Big 12 already trails the rest of the power five conferences in revenue, so expansion stands out as the only way for the Big 12 to increase revenue.
Any newcomers to the league wouldn’t be expected to receive a full share of TV revenue for multiple years, meaning more money for the 10 existing members…
… The conference already has announced plans to start a football championship game next year, which could mean another $25 million to $30 million in revenue. Absent a conference channel, the only other way for the Big 12 to significantly grow revenue in the near term is to add schools and activate that pro rata clause in its media contracts.
That kind of cash grab, sources say, is rubbing ESPN and Fox the wrong way because any new schools would not carry the profile of most power five schools, which is what the networks are paying for.
But think of all the cachet Cincinnati as a card-carrying member of the Big 12 would carry, guys.
The best part of this is that the networks previously displayed an unusual altruism towards the conference.
There’s also some history here. Executives at ESPN and Fox remember 2010 when they helped hold the conference together against the Pac-12’s raid by keeping rights fees at the 12-team level, even though the Big 12 was reduced to 10 teams — Nebraska left for the Big Ten, while Colorado departed for the Pac-12. That was under the previous Big 12 administration led by former Commissioner Dan Beebe.
Maybe Bob and his presidents see that as a sign of weakness. In any event, pissing off the hands that write the checks may work in the short run — both ESPN and Fox are stuck with the language they negotiated — but one thing about all contracts is that they eventually expire. And when that happens…
Another option would be to go along with the increases now and not support the Big 12 in 2025, when the grant of rights and the TV deals expire.
Should that turn out to be the case, it won’t just be the TV deals that expire.
Shorter Literal West Virginia President E. Gordon Gee: “We didn’t want to be seen as poachers of other conferences. We wanted to make sure schools would approach us so we’d have clarity on their interest.”
Uh hunh. Right.
That financial focus is especially the reality for the Big 12, which was born as a merger of two defunct conferences (the Southwest and the Big Eight); which lost members to three other leagues during the past several years of realignment…
The Big 12 is an amalgam forged out of failure. It has no historical tradition as such with which to wrap itself in, something that makes it different from its four other P5 peers. That means it feels even less restraint in its current money chase, which is why this strategy doesn’t sound as implausible as it might at first glance.
The most important data point in favor of Big 12 expansion, said Neal Pilson, a media consultant and former CBS Sports president, is the massive rights extensions the Big Ten reportedly struck with Fox, ESPN and CBS, which would nearly triple that conference’s annual rights revenue (not including the Big Ten Network), to nearly a quarter of a billion dollars…
For that reason, Pilson advised the Big 12 to take a page from the Big Ten’s playbook. Much as the Big Ten, a traditionally Midwestern league, recently added Rutgers and Maryland to plant its flag near several East Coast population centers, the Big 12, whose members reside in Great Plains states and Texas (and West Virginia), ought to invite Connecticut to join, Pilson said.
“Having Texas and Oklahoma and the other major Big 12 schools playing in the Northeast would create additional revenue opportunities and make it a more attractive conference in terms of new sponsors and a better linear television deal,” Pilson said.
Again, if you’re a fan of college football — and if you’re reading this blog, that’s a pretty good indication you are — you recognize that one of the sport’s greatest strengths is based in its regional appeal. If chasing “a better linear television deal” is to be the Big 12’s new raison d’etre, I’m not sure what that says about that conference’s long-term survival chances. What depresses me, though, is the worry that this turns out to be the canary in the coal mine for the sport as a whole.
Ladies and gentlemen, the governor of Texas.
I wonder how the presidents of the conference’s schools in Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas and West Virginia will take that considerate advice.