I’m having an email discussion with a reader about (what else?) where things go from here in the new super league version of college football we’re watching emerge. He still thinks there’s a place for academic reputation in the realm of expansion, particularly in the case of the Big Ten.
I’m not seeing it, mainly because ESPN and Fox could give a rat’s ass about academics. They’re steering the expansion train and the only thing that matters to them is attracting eyeballs. As Jon Wilner puts it,
Geography no longer matters.
Academic reputation no longer matters.
Now, the main driver is brand value: Fox and ESPN will pay for the football programs that generate ratings and are most likely to land in prime TV windows.
That’s it. That’s all there is now.
The math is simple.
Thompson said the Big Ten’s decision to add two Los Angeles-based universities was rooted in a simple math equation. The 14 existing conference members know they’ll receive approximately $71.4 million per university under the new Fox deal. Adding two more partners only made sense if they could generate a minimum of $143 million in additional distributable revenue.
“To get there you could assume that the bulk of the 5.2 million pay TV homes in LA, San Diego, Palm Springs and Santa Barbara become inner-market Big Ten Network subscribers,” he said. “That will add significant affiliate revenue for the network.”
Adding Southern California to the portfolio increases the Big Ten’s core TV households by 25 percent. The result is additional advertising revenue for the Big Ten Network, Fox Broadcast Network and FS1 as well.
Said Thompson: “That should all be enough to convince Fox that the additional rights fees are worthwhile.”
If you can make it worth the broadcasters’ while, you get a ticket to the big boys’ club. And if you can’t…
… Oregon and Washington may be of interest to the Big Ten. However, Thompson estimated that those two Pac-12 universities, along with the Oregon and Washington television markets, would only generate an additional $60 million in combined additional revenues.
It’s good money, but well shy of the $143 million breakeven for the Big Ten.
It doesn’t kill the possibility of Oregon and Washington following USC and UCLA into the conference. It just means that the Big Ten members have two options if they’re going to do it: A) Be OK with about $6 million less annually to have UO and UW in the house; or B) Welcome Oregon and Washington, but inform the newcomers that they won’t get full distributions for a while.
Yeah, like Option A) is a real consideration.
Back to Wilner for the final word:
How much value do Arizona and Arizona State carry on the open market? Specifically, how attractive are they to the Big 12?
The schools certainly fit geographically, and Arizona’s basketball program would be ideal for the Big 12.
But valuation is based on the strength of your football brand, and the Wildcats are a tick above zero on that scale.
The Sun Devils would need to pack enough media value to account for Arizona, as well, if we presume they’re a package deal. (I’m not sure that’s the case, but it’s a subject for another column.)
ASU’s situation is comparable to the dilemma facing Cal and Stanford: The size of your media market matters far less than it did a decade ago.
Value is based on the ability of your football program to drive ratings and claim prime broadcast windows.
When they say it’s about the money, believe ’em. Welcome to the new world, folks.