Andy Staples has a good piece up about the upcoming media rights battles facing three of the P5 conferences, the Big Ten, the Big 12 and the ACC. Two of those fights (Big Ten and ACC) are likely to be of interest simply as gauges of where the broadcast market is heading from a value and delivery of content standpoint (“ESPN has reportedly lost seven million subscribers over the past two years. Assuming those people only had ESPN and none of the network’s other channels—most likely did, but let’s estimate conservatively—that’s seven million people who are no longer paying $6 a month for ESPN. That’s a loss of $42 million a month, or $504 million a year.”), but the Big 12’s contest is more existential than that.
That’s because of that conference’s 800-pound gorilla, the University of Texas. There is a growing number of Big 12 voices who call for the end of the Longhorn Network, Texas’ sweet $15-million/year deal, so that all the schools can join together and create a conference network. Never mind that the other Big 12 schools sold their third-tier rights just as the ‘Horns did. The real irony is that the Longhorn Network is what saved the Big 12 a few years ago in the first place.
For those who don’t remember, the Longhorn Network is one of the main reasons the Big 12 still exists. Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado were headed to the former Pac-10, but then the Longhorns pulled an 11th-hour okey-doke on commissioner Larry Scott when the schools out west wouldn’t agree to let Texas form its own television network. So, the Longhorns made nice with the rest of the Big 12 and got their network.
So now, to make this work you have to (1) convince Texas that it won’t lose a penny by terminating the LHN in exchange for a conference broadcast arrangement; (2) require every other conference member to terminate their third-tier media rights deals while making sure that Texas is at the front of the line being made whole from however the new revenue stream is recast; (3) probably add two schools into the mix, which means making sure the pie is enlarged enough that the existing members don’t miss a beat on the money flow; and (4) convincing Texas that ensuring the Big 12’s stability is in its best interests.
Does that sound to you like something Bob Bowlsby can pull off?