Sunday, August 23, 2009

Conference TV Contract: The Big 12

The Big 12's TV contract looks like a hodgepodge of games airing on several different networks, but in reality only two entities own those games. The number of games available on TV have increased drastically as the league's cable partner

ABC owns the top choice of Big 12 games every week and they usually air in the 3:30pm ET time slot. ABC owns up to 19 Big 12 games per season including the conference championship games.

FSN owns the rest of the Big 12 games. Over the years these games have been both syndicated to over the air stations and aired of FSN's group of regional sports network affiliates, but these games now air all on cable. The cable side of the house is also where things have really changed.

Until ABC started their Saturday Night Football set of games, the Big 12 TV contract was fairly straightforward:
  • ABC got the top choice of games and could choice as many games as they wanted each week (usually one game per week, maybe two). When ABC aired a Big 12 game at 12pm ET, FSN could air a game at the same time. ABC had an exclusive window at 3:30pm and no game could be aired on FSN, except when ABC chose not to air a game.
  • FSN and TBS would then choose the top cable game each week and air it at 7pm ET
  • FSN would then choose a game to air at 12:30pm ET. These games were previously syndicated on over the air stations.
  • All other games had the option to be telecast on pay-per-view. FSN would approve all PPV telecast and those games had to kickoff outside of the ABC telecast window.
In 2007, things changed drastically after TBS decided not to continue the sublicense agreement. Both ESPN and Versus signed sublicense agreements, ESPN for seven games and Versus for five. ESPN's games could air on Thursday and on Saturdays would be primetime games. Versus's set of games would be early afternoon kickoff, usually at 12:30pm. FSN would retain a set of games and also air games on Fox College Sports, a suite of channels available on digital cable that act like a satellite sports pack. DirecTV also carries the FCS games. The result has been an increase in the number of games televised nationally, but it also can result in confusion as to where a game airs with five different TV outlets carrying Big 12 football.

Since 2007, ABC has retained its exclusive window at 3:30pm when airing a game in this slot. FSN and Versus often air games concurrently in the early afternoon time slot. FSN and ESPN attempt to not compete with each other in the evening slots but if they do they attempt to stagger the start times of games.

Currently the contracts for Big 12 football are not synched up between cable and over-the-air partners with respect to contract length. The ABC contract (which also includes ESPN's rights to Big 12 men's basketball) ends after the 2016 season, where the FSN contract (which includes FSN's rights for women's basketball and many Olympic sports) ends after the 2011 season. The Big 12 has been named in rumors discussing a national network for some of their cable rights with the ACC and it will be interesting to see whether they remain with FSN and continue their current arrangement of sublicensing games to other entities or if this sublicensing has allowed the Big 12 to target a preferred pay-TV partner going forward.

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