The Big 12 dramatically increased its funding from media rights Wednesday by signing a 13-year agreement with Fox Sports Media for exclusive cable rights to conference athletics. The new pact, which will take effect with the 2012 football season, should guarantee the league close to $150 million from its network media contracts. The league touted the agreement as putting the conference at "the highest levels of college athletics" in revenue generation. The pact will assure that every Big 12 Conference controlled football game will be televised.
Under this agreement, ABC/ESPN gets first choice for 18 games per season. The ABC/ESPN contract runs through 2016, and the conference hopes to increase its media rights revenue when that is renegotiated. Fox is next in line and will select 40 games per year. There is a provision in the pact that will leave at least one game per season to individual teams to broadcast on their platforms. Oklahoma is working on putting together its own network, and the Big 12 has promised the other 8 members that they will form a Big 12 channel for the third tier rights of the other programs.
That $150 million figure dramatically increases the take for all teams and – at least temporarily – puts the league on almost equal footing with other BCS conferences. However, unlike other leagues, the Big 12 will not be sharing the money equally. Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M are expected to get $20 million a year from conference TV revenue as part of the deal made last summer that saved the Big 12. That would leave $90 million to be split among the other seven teams in the league, just under $13 million a year. The total would match what ACC teams are currently getting from their TV contracts, and it would lag behind other BCS conferences. At some point, Texas will be collecting $35 million in media revenue annually ($15 million from the Longhorn Network, $20 million from the league) – and that will be more than double what many of the other league members will be receiving.
Expansion from 10 teams seems to be off the table for the time being, and the uneven distribution of the revenue is a factor. There is no one out there (with the exception of Notre Dame) that could bring enough additional revenue with them to make it worthwhile. Some have thrown BYU around as a potential addition, but it is very unlikely. BYU would join Texas and OU as programs with their own networks. There is little or no upside for the other 8 members of the Big 12 to add yet another program that would probably demand $20 million a year while also not being a part of whatever channel the Big 12 puts together for its other members.
The increased revenue does put the Big 12 into a higher income bracket, but other BCS conferences are working on changing their numbers as well.
The BIG 10
Right now each team in the Big 10 receives roughly $22 million annually from the league -- $9 million from the ABC/ESPN contract, $9 million from the Big 10 Network, and the rest from licensing, bowl revenue and the NCAA basketball tournament. Nebraska’s inclusion should not dramatically decrease that amount, thanks to the Big 10 Network.
The league collects 70-80 cents per subscriber in the states where the league has member institutions. Outside its area of influence the charge is 10 cents. Right now the Big 10 Network is available in nearly 45 million homes, and advertising revenue was up 30% in 2010. Nebraska will only enhance those numbers. The Conference Championship game is expected to kick in an additional $15 million in revenue. Like the Big 12, the Big 10 contracts with the networks will be up in 2016.
The 12 members of the SEC each received $18.2 million from the conference for 2009-10. The SEC deals with ESPN and CBS will pump in over $3 Billion to the league by the time they run out in 2023. The league’s top programs, (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee) added several million more to their coffers with local media rights. In fact, the 12 members of the SEC reported total athletic revenues of over 1 billion.
The PAC 12
The wildcard in this race for revenue is the Pac 12. With Colorado and Utah now in the fold, the league is currently seeking a new TV contract and they reportedly want at least $222 million a year. One factor in favor the Pac 12 is that it is a seller’s market. ESPN and Fox have a new competitor for sports programming – Comcast. Coming off its merger with NBC Universal, Comcast wants in on the Sports Regional Network platform, and the timing is perfect for the Pac 12 to open bidding. Conference officials are also exploring business arrangements so games would be available on mobile devices, including iPhones.
The Pac 12 wants to create its version of the Big 10 Network, and it is already offering some concessions to scheduling. The league is willing to play primetime games on Thursday night for its network. They will also alter how they schedule conference basketball games. Right now the format calls for a Thursday-Saturday schedule with travel partners. Arizona will play at Oregon on a Thursday and at Oregon State on Saturday. Arizona State would have the opposite schedule. Now the Pac 12 is willing to spread out conference games throughout the week, and teams will not travel in pairs.
One advantage the Pac 12 has in current negotiations is a factor that was the deal-breaker this past summer when Texas and other Big 12 members flirted with moving to that league. The current Pac 12 has bundled all media rights at the conference level. In other words, there is no third tier media for individual schools to package separately. The league can maximize its revenue and exposure because it holds the distribution rights over all conference content. Negotiations are expected to be wrapped up sometime this summer, and every other BCS conference will be paying close attention to see what kind of deal gets finalized.
The Big 12 contract with Fox will help all members with increased revenue. But in the quickly changing world of collegiate media rights, other BCS conferences are already plotting ways to further boost their revenue streams. The fact remains that the unequal revenue sharing in the Big 12 will make it harder for the bottom half to become more competitive, which in turn will make it harder to negotiate from a position of strength when the network contracts come up in 2015.