Could the Big 12’s expansion plans actually hurt its relationship with college football’s most important TV partners?
John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal reported Monday morning that, actually, the answer to that question could be yes.
Ourand reports ESPN and Fox are non-plussed with the thought of the 10-team conference adding the likes of BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis and/or UConn, programs which would “water down the Big 12 and make it less valuable.”
ESPN and Fox would owe the Big 12 a combined $20 million per team added to the conference — so $40 million for two teams or $80 million for four teams. The Big 12’s TV deal with both networks runs through 2024-2025.
The question now becomes for the Big 12: Is the short-term financial windfall worth damaging its relationship with ESPN and Fox?
Both networks easily could walk away from renewing with the conference — or put in a lowball offer — after 2025 if they feel the quality of play decreased because of, for example, Houston and Cincinnati’s presence. That’s a significant risk for Bob Bowlsby and the Big 12 to take, especially without the safety net of a conference network (as the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC will all have by 2019).
But nine years is a long time in today’s media landscape. If the TV rights bubble is already beginning to burst, what will rights payouts look like in 2025? Will cable TV still hold a certain level of importance with alternative offerings proliferating over the the last few years? Will ESPN and Fox even be the best destinations for distributing the Big 12’s product?
In a sense, it’s a risk either way. The Big 12 may very well damage beyond repair its relationship with ESPN and Fox over expansion, but it also may not matter when those networks’ contracts are up. But in the short term, it’ll be fascinating to see how — or if — ESPN and Fox are able to influence the Big 12’s expansion efforts, given that, to paraphrase the Wu-Tang Clan, C.R.E.A.C.F. (Cash Rules Everything Around College Football).