Five Things to Watch in the Big 12’s Future TV Contract Negotiations
The Big Ten’s ‘big deal’ with Fox Sports, NBC and CBS felt like the first real domino falling since USC and UCLA bolted from the Pac-12 Conference earlier this summer.
While the deal isn’t final or official, the fact that ESPN isn’t at the table speaks volumes. The Big Ten’s stated goal was to get college sports’ first $1 billion per year TV deal. The league may have pulled it off.
For the Big 12, the Pac-12, the ACC and the rest of college sports, the deal reverberates for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the Big 12 and Pac-12 have new contracts coming up and the ACC is trying to renegotiate its deal with ESPN.
Here are five thoughts on what this means from a Big 12 perspective.
Does the Big Ten’s Deal Help the Big 12?
On some level, it has to. ESPN will be without Big Ten football and basketball once the new deal starts. While they can basically run any SEC and ACC game they want to on the mother ship, they’ll still need games on ESPN2, ESPNU and its ESPN+ package. ESPN reportedly had an offer to the Big Ten for seven years and $380 million. The Big 12 would surely benefit from the money ESPN DIDN’T spend. How much is the question. It doesn’t help the Big 12 that it’s behind the Pac-12 in television negotiations. Former commissioner Bob Bowlsby tried to re-start those last year, just before Oklahoma and Texas announced their intentions to leave. The Pac-12 is now in a second exclusive negotiating window with ESPN. I don’t think the Big Ten walking away from ESPN gives the Pac-12 more leverage, if we’re being honest. Maybe for that 10:30 ET window, but not much else. That’s just one game per week, two if you count their occasional Friday games (which if they’re smart they’ll make a weekly occurrence). The Big 12 will wait to see how the market sets with the Pac-12 negotiations, because ….
The Big 12 Should Still Expand
Everything on expansion has cooled off because the remainder of the Pac-12 is waiting to see what the final TV contract from ESPN looks like. It’s that simple. If the money is enough to make everyone happy, then the Pac-12 will simply fall back into the Pac-10, at least until it expands. If the money isn’t enough, or certain members get persnickety about certain programs getting more of the payout, that’s when you could see certain teams start to explore the Big 12 a bit more.
The Big 12 needs to be smart about this. Going to 16 teams gives them more inventory for network partners. Any college in a market with at least one million TV sets needs to be on its list. That would include Arizona State, Colorado, either Cal or Stanford, San Diego State and Washington. Programs like Arizona and Oregon have less populous TV markets, but if you can get three of those remaining big TV markets, you could take a fourth from a smaller market and be OK with that. Ratings do matter. But so does ACCESS to the market. You can’t get people interested in watching your conference without access to the market.
Broadcast TV Partners Still Matter
The Big Ten approached this TV deal like the NFL and came out looking like a boss. Three separate contracts with Fox, NBC and CBS — all with over-the-air windows for their top games — will give them incredible exposure on Saturdays. No, it’s not set your TV to ESPN all day. But, how many of you have an issue watching an NFL game on Fox at noon central and then watching another NFL game on CBS at 3:15 central and then another NFL game on NBC that evening? Didn’t think so.
I explored in an earlier piece how the Big 12 could leverage this with NBC and Notre Dame. Don’t think that just because both NBC and CBS have deals with the Big Ten that they’re done spending. NBC only gets six or seven Notre Dame home games. CBS could turn their Saturday into a two- or three-game extravaganza with the Big 12 getting one of those spots. The SEC and the ACC went the consolidation route with ESPN. The Big Ten is going a multiple streams of revenue route. The Big 12 would be smart to do the same. They could come out with the better overall financial deal when comparing it to the Pac-12.
The Basketball Footprint Helps The Big 12
ESPN isn’t just out on Big Ten football. It’s out on Big Ten basketball, too, and in many ways college basketball helped fuel the network’s rise in the 1980s. That’s probably better news for the Big 12 than the Pac-12, as the Big 12 has won the last two national championships and each of its NCAA Men’s Tournament participants last March won their first-round games. The Big 12 is a huge part of ESPN’s block of national games on Monday and Tuesday, and the additions of Houston, BYU, Cincinnati and UCF are only going to enhance that proposition. Now, football moves the money, but ESPN needs to fill those time slots on Big Monday and Super Tuesday, come January, too. The Big 12 is good enough to command its own weeknight doubleheader, especially on nights where, say, West Virginia hosts Kansas and Baylor hosts Houston. The Pac-12 doesn’t have the deep bench that the Big 12 has when it comes to men’s basketball. Plus, the Pac-12 is losing one of its high-end basketball programs in UCLA.
The College Football Playoff is Twisting Everything Up
The College Football Playoff expansion is inevitable. At the start of this year, I felt expansion of the playoff, and the ensuing television contracts that came with it, would be the first domino. It now appears that the main bidders for the playoff — ESPN and Fox — are either prepared to pay whatever the market commands or at least have some comfort in the number of participants in playoff expansion and what that will cost. The ambiguity won’t last forever. A deal will eventually get done. It would be better if it happened sooner for all concerned — the TV partners, the Big 12 and the Pac-12 — because it would bring more certainty to how much of the pie is left (the money isn’t infinite). But, with no expansion in sight, the Pac-12 is going to test what ESPN is willing to part with without having that playoff deal signed. The Big 12 gets to wait a little longer, which could end up being a good thing. At least by the time their negotiations start, there’s a better chance of cost certainty. Why is that important? I think ESPN is going to try and low-ball the Pac-12, and with all the other deals done for the other Power 5 conferences, the Big 12 will have a really good idea of what it can command, leveraging that against other offers.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.