The Big 12 Conference on Wednesday announced that its fall sports season would go on, one day after the Big Ten and Pac-12 Conferences called off their 2020 plans amid the coronavirus pandemic.
ESPN and Fox Sports believe that expansion with schools from outside the power five conferences will water down the Big 12 and make it less valuable, not more, sources say. But the Big 12 is financially motivated to add more teams. A clause in the conference’s media deals stipulate that if the Big 12 expands, it would receive pro rata increases in its rights fees.
No league better exemplifies the reality that big-time college sports are driven less by rivalries than by cable cords and subscriber fees. The Big 12 is staring at an economically driven, zero-sum landscape in which other conferences’ gains are frequently its losses, and expansion would put the division into new markets and potentially add millions of dollars to TV rights deals.
Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN has renewed its television deal with the Big 12 conference, home to college football powerhouses Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia. The new deal runs through the 2024-25 season and follows a similar deal Fox Sports struck with the Big 12 last season.
The Big 12 is on the verge of a blockbuster TV contract that will put its media revenue among the top tier of college conferences, despite losing several marquee programs in the last two years. The Big 12 and ESPN are nearing an extension that will earn the conference — combined with its Fox TV contract — $2.5 billion over the next 13 years, according to industry sources. The ESPN extension would run through 2025 and sync up with Fox’s deal.
The cable channel, known for edgy entertainment and movies, is expected to announce Monday it will be airing college football games on Saturdays this fall. The package of 13 Fox Sports on FX games, some of which will air in primetime, is being carved out of rights deals Fox Sports already has with the Big 12, Pac-12 and Conference USA. Conference USA’s championship game could also air on FX.
On the verge of collapse just months ago, the Big 12 is nearing a cable agreement with Fox that will more than triple the conference’s revenue over its current contract. The Big 12 and Fox are close to finalizing a long-term deal that will pay the 10-team league more than $60 million a year, well up from the $20 million it now receives from its cable contract, industry sources say.