Monday, August 15, 2016

A few thoughts on Big 12 expansion from a television standpoint

Regarding Big 12 expansion, I have had three things that have floated across my mind:

* The current Big 12 contracts were finalized in early September of 2012 and that's when the provision was added to simply provide for any new schools an extra revenue share for TV instead of a full renegotiation for television.  We're now getting the "why did they (they being ESPN & FOX) do that?  What a dumb move."

Whether it was really true or not, there was a lot screaming going on in Tallahassee & Clemson about leaving the ACC and its disadvantages (some of it misinformed), and those schools certainly would have warranted an equal share of  TV revenue from the Big 12's television partners.

For ESPN and FOX (more for ESPN as an ACC TV rightsholder), the Big 12 provision could be viewed as a hedge against the ACC imploding and losing out on televising games from those schools.  Wasn't a bad hedge at the time, but with the ACC doing its own Grant of Rights in April of 2013, it kinda limited the Big 12's expansion targets to outside the Power Five conferences.  And we're now at a crossroads of sorts.

* Television networks, when it comes to college football, value flexibility.  See the Pac-12 for example, though that's a bit of a cautionary tale because the way some of their coaches talk about it with respect to night games, maybe they gave away too much of the farm (they're trying to fix it this year).

A few weeks back, I brought up how scheduling more games on weeknights, probably with any new members hosting, would be one way to provide a bit of value back to the television networks.  Another way to do it: targeting schools to the west of the conference's footprint.

The conference is currently dominated by schools in the Central Time Zone with West Virginia being the outlier in the Eastern Time Zone.  West Virginia has hosted eleven Saturday 12pm ET starts on various networks since joining the Big 12 from 2012 to 2015, more than any other Big 12 school (tied for second are Iowa St. and Kansas at ten each).

As noted above, FOX and ESPN have been given a bit of grief from the Pac-12 about nighttime starts in the Pac-12, but if they could schedule a 10pm ET / 8pm MT game, those could be more valuable than adding another school in the east and trying to fit the game on FSN or ESPNU.

* First, let me say as I was researching the paragraphs written below, I came across this piece by Scott Pierce of the Salt Lake Tribune, who puts forth the point that BYU would have no problem getting out of their TV deal with ESPN if it were to enter the Big 12.  I was researching whether BYU's football TV contract with ESPN was, possibly, more of a stumbling block.  Here's my thinking behind that:

  • Consider that we have both past (East Carolina, mid 90s in C-USA) and current (Navy with the American) precedent with an independent TV deal remaining in force when the school moved its football program into a conference.  Neither of those TV deals, as I understand it, are or were as lucrative to the schools as BYU's is.
  • There is a difference with the potential for BYU since ESPN is a Big 12 TV partner, so absorbing it into the Big 12 TV contract wouldn't be as unique as all Navy home games remaining on CBS Sports Network & CBS or ESPN picking two East Carolina games before FSN could take their C-USA games.  
  • ESPN pays BYU far less for its football rights than the combined TV share than a Big 12 school earns for all athletics, which would seem to be quite palatable for ESPN in the short term.  Big 12 could add a school, but ESPN in theory could continue to enforce the BYU football contract at whatever rate schedule is in force (I have read they get paid based on the network the game airs on).  Meanwhile, the Big 12 only gets a bump for adding BYU only in all other sports except football, unless they add them for football only, which means they could get no extra revenue from a TV deal.  
  • The Big 12 doesn't want to add someone that, in theory, won't add to their pile of cash or could actually pull money away from everyone else.  To my knowledge, Big 12 television partners aren't cutting eleven individual checks for TV; its a check to the conference who then divides it up.  BYU, in that sense, could be in more of a pay-to-play situation because they'd be paying to enter a conference and not reaping the benefits of increased income for a period of time.
  • On the FOX side of that house, if the ESPN contract were to remain in force, unless provisions were made by ESPN, FOX would have no access to BYU home games and limited access to four BYU conference road games as part of the Big 12 television deals.  I say "limited" because of the weekly selection process that most TV partners work with on their conferences.  There would also be virtually no access to BYU men's basketball (ESPN is national rightsholder), so FOX would have limited access to BYU athletics in the sports they are largely paying the most money towards existing Big 12 schools.

Pierce notes that when speaking to ESPN executives that "BYU can do what is best for BYU", but let's be clear that ESPN is also going to do what is best for themselves too, and that could include contract enforcement.

BYU should keep an eye on this whole thing, because if they were to stay independent in football, they may be able to gauge the market rate for themselves if they want to see what the market will bear for them in the next couple years.


Andrew Landry said...


I seem to recall at the time the current BYU-ESPN was announced that it was stated that it allowed BYU to join an AQ conference. Can't find a link at the moment though.

Matt Sarzyniak said...

Its possible that there is a parameter in place for that. I don't know if there's a monetary payment included to void the contract or if its wiped out if ESPN is a TV partner. For example, if the Big 12 were only with FOX and not ESPN, would they still be free and clear?

I did read that they are mostly clear with respect to the West Coast Conference in terms of financial penalties if they left, but the WCC was OK even before BYU joined.

Anonymous said...

Interesting argument based on the Mountain Time Zone. That would tend to benefit BYU and Colorado State the most. Ok State, K-State, and Iowa State would be expected to be much more in favor of fellow land-grant C-State coming in alongside BYU. That gives two Mountain Time Zone schools with games to offer in the late slot. Sure, Boise State works too, but Boise isn't a land grant. It doesn't have the commonality with the 3 land grants.