TVContract.com

ESPN, Fox may share Big 12 rights

March 26, 2012
Courtesy of Sports Business Daily

The Big 12’s pending media rights extension with ESPN is being patterned after the Pac-12’s TV rights deal, sources told SportsBusiness Journal last week.

That’s because the deal, which still is weeks away from being signed, is expected to have ESPN and Fox Sports sharing some broadcast and cable programming rights, like they do in the new agreement with the Pac-12. Currently, ESPN holds the broadcast rights for Big 12 games, and Fox Sports holds the cable rights for football.

The Big 12’s extension with ESPN would take the league’s partnership with the network to 2025. The two contracts combined would run concurrently for 13 more years and pay the conference a total of $2.5 billion. The breakdown works out to roughly $1.3 billion from ESPN and $1.2 billion from Fox.

If the new deal goes through as expected, Fox could pick up the rights to some football games for its broadcast channel, while ESPN could wind up with cable rights that it would use for its channels. One of the ESPN channels that could benefit is Longhorn Network, which thus far has been unable to cut carriage deals with the biggest cable operators and satellite companies in Texas.

A working relationship between ESPN and Fox is far from unprecedented. The two networks joined forces last year to negotiate a record $3 billion, 12-year deal with the Pac-12, which made them joint rights holders for the first time.

“It’s beyond two major networks. It’s really two major media companies with lots of networks and lots of platforms and a vast array of marketing assets,” said Chris Bevilacqua, the media consultant for the Pac-12 who engineered that conference’s joint deal with ESPN and Fox. “It’s terrific if you’re the property rights holder. Both networks have proved to be great producers, distributors and marketers, and they have significant investments in college sports. Between the two of them, it’s good for the overall industry to have all the assets of two of the biggest media companies in the world investing into your product.”

The pending deal also keeps competitor NBC Sports from gaining a foothold in the college sports marketplace. When they completed their Pac-12 deal, ESPN and Fox Sports executives were open about their willingness to partner in order to keep NBC Sports from getting the conference’s games.

If the Big 12 deal is signed, it will have the same effect.

The Big 12’s current contract with ESPN has four years left on it, but both sides didn’t want to wait it out. The conference, which has endured the upheaval of four schools leaving and two new schools joining in the last two years, looks forward to securing its financial future after it appeared that the conference might crumble. Nebraska left for the Big Ten and Colorado joined the Pac-12 last year, and this year Texas A&M and Missouri are heading to the SEC, moves which left the conference on the verge of folding.

Instead, the Big 12 added Texas Christian and West Virginia to hold steady at 10 teams.

How a new media contract would affect the conference’s willingness to expand remains to be seen, but industry analysts said the Big 12 would be less likely to add more teams now that it has its primary revenue stream secured for the next 13 years.

The conference stands to make $2.5 billion over the next 13 years combined from both networks, which averages $192.3 million a year, or $19.23 million annually per school. That puts the Big 12 in the same range with the Pac-12 and the Big Ten, both of which make close to $21 million a year for their schools through media deals.

The Pac-12 money is about to jump when its conference networks come online later this year.

Big 12 schools also have the potential to generate additional revenue because each one keeps the rights to at least one football game and multiple basketball games that they can monetize. For Texas, those games go on Longhorn Network, while other schools broadcast them online or on TV through syndication or pay-per-view.

The SEC’s current deal with ESPN annually pays its schools about $17 million each, while the ACC is at $13 million per school, but both conferences are in the midst of negotiating raises to account for expansion. The ACC is adding Syracuse and Pittsburgh.

Extending the Big 12’s deal not only secures the conference’s financial future, it should make its schools think twice before jumping to other leagues. The deal also would lock ESPN into a long-term partnership with the league and prevent the Big 12 from taking its rights to the open market, two aspects to the deal that carry significant value, industry sources say.

Others, however, have wondered why the conference would rush into a deal now. Chuck Neinas, the Big 12’s interim commissioner, is expected to be in office for three more months until a permanent replacement is hired, which has prompted industry experts to wonder why the conference would move forward in its talks with ESPN instead of waiting until a permanent commissioner is hired. Big 12 officials would not comment.

Doing its extension with ESPN now also might rob the conference of some important negotiating power. ESPN’s contract talks with the SEC and ACC could reset the market again if those numbers jump and meet or surpass Pac-12 money.

On the other hand, the Big 12 can rest somewhat easier knowing that it has gone from the verge of extinction to solid footing for the next 13 years.

The college marketplace promises to be busy this year. In addition to the talks between ESPN and the SEC and ACC, the Big East will be in the market for a new contract as well. The Mountain West and Conference USA also are in the process of determining how they could merge their two leagues, and that too could present the opportunity to renegotiate their media contracts.

Read more at Sports Business Daily where this story was originally published.