Late June brought news that the Rose Bowl had agreed to an extension with the Big Ten and Pac-12 to broadcast the game through 2026 — not so coincidentally, the same length as the four-team playoff approved by the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee.
The terms of the extension weren’t released at the time, but thanks to a report from the Sports Business Journal, that’s changed somewhat. Industry sources told the publication ESPN plans to pay an average of $80 million a year (!!!!!!!!!) to the bowl game, representing a 167% increase from the $30 million it gets from media revenue currently.
That number could bring the total price tag for playoff media rights to $600 million; The Sporting News previously reported a playoff could generate around $500 million annually.
Where things get convoluted is the network bidding process for the yearly package of a championship game, two semifinals plus the four additional major bowls for college football’s top 12 (the playoff semifinals rotate among those six major bowls, which have yet to be named officially). ESPN has first negotiating rights with the first two parts of that package. Currently, ESPN pays $125 million annually for the BCS championship game.
But, if a deal can’t be made, the bidding process for a four-team playoff will be opened up to other major networks. That complicates things as playoff games could be shown on multiple networks. At that point, you’re talking about a revenue distribution cluster-you-know-what.
“It’s pretty simple if ESPN buys everything,” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott told the SBJ. “Only when they don’t does it start to get complicated with what happens to the semifinals.”
Keep in mind that with the Orange Bowl recently signing off on an extension with the ACC through the life of the four-team playoff, and the Big 12-SEC “Champions Bowl” handing over its media rights to the highest bidder, college football’s five major conferences will continue to have bowl tie-ins allowing all media revenue to be flushed right back into the leagues. In years that a major bowl acts a semifinal game, however, media revenue will be distributed among all 11 FBS conferences, though in what proportions remains unknown.
The SBJ reports that the “Champions Bowl” could generate yearly media revenue similar to the Rose Bowl, while the Orange Bowl is expected to net less, mostly because of a lack of permanent conference opponent. Notre Dame has confirmed talks with the ACC about a possible tie-in.
The easy part was deciding on a four-team playoff, but even a selection committee looks like remedial math compared to how major college football is going to divide the revenue from the new postseason format if the games are spread across multiple networks.