Did the Pac-12 upstage the Big 12's TV deal?

May, 4, 2011
5/04/11
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Later today, the Pac-12 is expected to announce a television deal with Fox and ESPN worth $3 billion over 12 years, an average of $250 million annually.

Last month, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe was lauded for his role in negotiating a $1.2 billion deal with Fox over 13 years for his league, an average of $90 million annually.

So, what's the deal? Has the Big 12 been swindled yet again by that two-faced, Longhorn-yielding, walking he-devil commish? (For our less loyal Big 12 blog readers, that's a joke.)

Well... no.

But will the Pac-12 one-up the Big 12's recent television deal?

How does "Yes, no and maybe" sound?

Let me explain.

For those unwilling to read past the big numbers, that $3 billion is for first and second-tier rights, shared between Fox and ESPN for every football game and likely every conference basketball game.

Under the Pac-12's new revenue sharing deal (it's equal! Sort of!) every team will receive over $20 million.

(Side note: Spare me the specious argument that equal revenue sharing equals parity. Ohio State has won at least a share of the Big Ten for seven consecutive years, while the SEC trumpeted its five consecutive national titles from four teams. Both share revenue equally. Someone call me when Indiana and Kentucky win a conference championship and I'll recommend the Big 12 kick a few more dollars Iowa State's way.)

For now, yes, it's more money. Soon, that may not be the case.

We live in an era where sports are more popular than ever, and if you haven't noticed while fast forwarding the commercials on your DVR'd sitcoms, is one of the most valuable places for advertisers to make sure you see their products.

Goodbye weeknight primetime, hello Saturday afternoon.

The big payoff for the Big 12 could be years down the road. Among the elite conferences, the Big 12 will get the last crack at big TV money when its first-tier rights are up for renewal in four years. Fox, for the first time in a long time, is planning to air regular season games on its flagship station, rather than Fox Sports. It's also putting games on the cable network FX, which reaches nearly as many homes as ESPN and ESPN2. To me, that expresses a pretty strong intent to get serious as a major player in broadcasting college sports, which is good news for the Big 12's future.

"We have another bite at the apple with our primary rights," Kevin Sweeney, the Big 12's lawyer, told me last month.

Does anyone, between now and then, see the passion for college football being tempered, viewers suddenly being compelled to watch the ads breaking up their favorite shows, and the Big 12 being left hungry?

I don't.

If anything, it could be intensified.

The Big 12 should know better than to take all its games off the ESPN family of networks, and I doubt the league's members would sign off on such a move. Fox's clear intention to ramp up the price of airing college athletics though, whether it ultimately wins the Big 12's first-tier rights or not, should inspire something resembling a bidding war.

The Big 12 previously made $20 million a year on its second-tier rights. It now makes $90 million.

It currently makes $60 million per year on its primary rights, totaling $150 million in television revenue per year in the current contracts, which are staggered and gradually increase pay as the contract ages, keeping pace with inflation.

The Pac-12 will make about $250 million per year with its first and second-tier rights. That's divided between 12 teams.

If the Big 12 sees the same 350 percent spike in its primary rights as it did with its secondary rights, it would have its television revenue totals reach $360 million ($90 million second-tier + $270 million first-tier) per year. That's divided between 10 teams.

Now, I don't think the same sort of spike with the Big 12's premier games will actually happen. Those numbers are a generous extrapolation based on what we've seen so far this spring. Still, my point is this: The Big 12 should likely, at the very least, remain competitive. With traditional powers Oklahoma and Texas, as well as rising programs in Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Missouri and Texas Tech, there should be some quality football being played in this league. And deals like the Pac-12's could serve as a bargaining chip.

Comparing the two leagues is up for debate. Texas and Oklahoma = Oregon and USC. The rest is essentially a wash that varies from year to year. Jim Harbaugh is gone and Andrew Luck will be after this year. Those stiff academic requirements aren't going anywhere, though. Does anybody want to bet on Stanford becoming a program accustomed to BCS appearances?

So, what about that pesky maybe?

That's where third-tier rights come in to play. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott pooled everyone together and looks bent on creating a Pac-12 Network, reserving the rights necessary to create it with the new television deal.

The Big 12? Frankly, on the third-tier rights front, it's a mess. Texas is rearing to go, with the Longhorn Network charging full steam ahead, prepping a few hoops games, a well-supported baseball team and plenty of coaches shows to fill the 24 hours, among other things. That should be a success, and Texas is already guaranteed $15 million per year from ESPN for 20 years, regardless of how much the network actually makes.

The rest of the Big 12? It has the rights, but distribution channels are still being discussed. A Big 12 Network is still miles away from becoming a reality. The debate over how much money Texas A&M and Oklahoma would get from the deal -- assuming it even happens -- should be an entertaining one and extend discussions. Not to mention finding a distribution partner, which even the Pac-12 hasn't done yet.

But how much money is even left to be made from third-tier rights? For now, it sound like no one other than the Big Ten and Texas has any idea. We won't know for a few years.

My guess is the Pac-12's top programs, with a united, 12-team network that splits revenue equally, won't make as much as their Big 12 counterparts. The programs near the bottom of the Pac-12, I would guess, should make substantially more than their Big 12 counterparts.

So in that sense, how much the Pac-12 makes compared to the Big 12 is all a matter of perspective.

But when it comes to television revenue, is it more?

Yes, no and maybe.

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