Monday, January 14, 2019

Big 12 Football Championship Game Rights Leaving FOX Sports

Sports Business Journal reported this morning that FOX Sports had given up their rights to the Big 12 football championship games, not just in future odd numbered seasons, but this coming season (2019).  The publication's First Look podcast noted two items were in play:

1) The cost of the game to FOX, reported to be in the $20 million range, didn't justify the return FOX could get for carrying the game. EDIT: a separate SBJ piece for their Daily publication notes that FOX gained the rights to the 2017 game only through mediation involving conference expansion that didn't occur.

2) Scheduling.  I'll go into this one in further details.

So let's handle this Q&A style:

What are the scheduling concerns that I see?

When the game came on the market and was listed as rotating between ESPN and FOX, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby mentioned several times that Friday night was a potential time slot for the game, subject to AT&T Stadium availability.  Go figure, the Cowboys playing Thursday night games at home the Thursday after Thanksgiving, the day before a Friday championship game (a week after Black Friday), may have cut into that stadium availability.  Sports Business Journal mentioned Friday was a non-starter in their podcast, but that's incorrect based on the history of trying to set the 2017 date.

Another hit to the possibility of a Friday night game on FOX is the start of WWE Smackdown in 2019.  Assuming FOX is hooked to airing Smackdown only on the broadcast network, that would leave FS1 as your broadcast outlet, which might have been less palatable to the conference.

(And yes, that could be a concern for the Pac-12 in future years, though if they aren't concerned about TV ratings & want better attendance, Saturday might be ideal)

So we keep it anchored to Saturday with FOX, who has the Big Ten championship on their broadcast network in primetime through 2022, so the Big 12 is locked out of a nighttime game unless its FS1.  Play alongside the SEC championship in the afternoon?  Seems like a losing proposition compared to 12pm ET, which I know fans of the conference dislike.

Financials didn't work for FOX?

I guess not.  Without parroting everything from the First Look podcast linked in the first paragraph, FOX sought to have their payout decreased, maybe in exchange for guaranteeing the early afternoon slot on the broadcast network or for the game to air on FS1 at night (I know neither of these things to be factual, so take those with a grain of salt).  It sounds like the minimum the Big 12 would take for a rights fee was still too much for FOX to pay.

The 2017 game had a 3.8 rating for FOX (Oklahoma vs. TCU).  It had a 6.2 for Texas vs. Oklahoma, and maybe FOX looks at that as a barometer for what the game can get on its best matchup & everything else being less than that for the cost it pays.

Both ratings numbers came from Sports Media Watch.

Where's the game going to air?

ESPN was the leader per Sports Business Journal.  I tend to believe that & the rights in even numbered years already reside here too.  They can play around with putting it in primetime at the same time as the ACC championship, flexing both games based on the matchup to air on ESPN or ABC.  This used to happen with the Big 12 when they had regular season games up against the ACC championship.  Compared to the perceptions of a game moving from FOX to FS1, a game moving between ABC & ESPN has a less negative perception.  That option could end up relegating the Mountain West over to ESPN2 for the final championship game of their current agreement.

If ESPN elects to stay with their current agreement & not add these games, maybe CBS would enter the picture, but I'm not picturing that scenario.

What's FOX going to air that Saturday?

College basketball seems likely.  They had around 400K-700K viewers for a tripleheader of Big East & Pac-12 games this year per ShowBuzzDaily.  That's a time of the year where they now schedule the opening of Big Ten intraconference play, so maybe they can get a matchup for the broadcast network like they did in 2017 with Ohio St. vs. Wisconsin before the conference's football championship game.  That one got over a million viewers.


Erik said...

I just can’t picture a non big 12 rights holder picking this game up. 20 million would be quite a chunk of change for a single game without any other Big 12 football content to prop it up.

ESPN should really lowball their offer.

Matt Sarzyniak said...

From a negotiation standpoint Erik, that would make sense. FOX essentially depressed the value of the game. I don't know that ESPN would do that as an existing partner to the conference and for the game 50% of the time (kinda the "we're a good partner & don't want to piss them off", but if there's a way to get this at a flat rate compared to what is being paid today, they could start there with an offer.

Big 12 can counter that the rating could end up being higher on ABC & ESPN, especially if the game is often between Oklahoma & Texas, which could mean that the game warrants the paycheck it gets today.

I only bring up the non-Big 12 TV partner because you never know if negotiations break down with ESPN, but that would surprise me.

Unknown said...

It would be cool but unlikely CBS or NBC if they picked it up

Matt said...

So, the ratings will be just OK if it's not Oklahoma vs Texas. That is the fear.

srr50 said...

this is a prime example as to why the Big 12 is on life support. The league's championship game is only worth it if Texas and OU are in it?

The Big 12 has systemic issues, not the least of which is that over 70% of their TV Households are in one state. And the"we're a good partner & don't want to piss them off" cuts both ways. Fox is an equal shareholder in the $2.6 Billion contract that has another 6 years to run, so I'm not sure that not making a deal with them on this one game is such a good idea for the league.

Schmolik said...

What % of the Pac-12's TV households are in California? I'd imagine it's a pretty large % too.