Big 12 was doomed… chose safety, stability

New Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark decided against bringing media rights to the open market.ap images

The once-struggling Big 12 have stabilized their future by agreeing to a six-year media rights deal with ESPN and Fox Sports totaling $2.28 billion, averaging $380 million a year, according to sources . The Big 12 have two years left on their current contract, which is running through the 2024-25 season at an annualized average of $220 million in recent years. The new six-year extension runs to 2030-31.

The agreement is a huge win for the Big 12 and the new commissioner Brett Yomark, who since taking office on Aug. 1, immediately began conspiring to strike a new deal with Big 12 incumbents ESPN and Fox. The problem was that the Big 12’s exclusive negotiation window with those networks didn’t start until February 2024. Therefore, the conference persuaded the networks to start negotiations for an extension early, telling them that no talks would trigger the exclusive window. But Yormark acted quickly to close deals with ESPN and Fox in less than three months.

The Big 12’s ability to not only land a new deal with the two networks, but also garner a substantial rights fee hike, was seen as a serious longshot last year when conference bluebloods Texas and Oklahoma said they would make the Big 12 for the left SEC. At the time, the future of the Big 12 seemed bleak and predictions from industry insiders said the Big 12 could halve their media rights revenue with the loss of their two best-known schools, even as the conference was then chaired by former commissioner Bob Bowlsbyquickly relocated to expand its footprint by adding four schools.

When Yormark took over the reins of the Big 12 on August 1, he hired media consultants at Endeavor and IMG Media to help negotiate renewals, and the Big 12’s fortunes rebounded as they reached an agreement in recent days which sees a 72.7% increase in the average annual value of its current deal, which began in 2012. The difference between the rights fee ESPN and Fox will pay from the last year of the old deal in 2024-25 and the first year of the new deal in 2025-26 is much more modest.

By completing these deals ahead of the exclusive negotiation window with ESPN and Fox, the Big 12 managed to achieve several of their key goals, namely stability and security, the ability to return to their 12 member schools to request an expanded grant of rights, and a Get a head start on future conference expansions. The conference also likes the idea that the shorter six-year contract, which runs to 2031, means the Big 12 get back on the market ahead of the SEC, whose contract with ESPN runs to 2034, and the ACC, whose contract with ESPN is expiring will be in 2036.

For the “A” package, ESPN gets each season’s top four football picks, six of the top eight picks, eight of the top 12 picks, and 12 of the top 20 picks. As part of the deal, ESPN will also get the rights to the Big 12 soccer championship game and the basketball tournament championship game. The Big 12’s parity helped persuade Fox, whose package includes 26 football games per season that will air on Fox Broadcast Network and FS1, to close the deal.

From Fox’s perspective, the silver lining after losing Oklahoma and Texas is that the Big 12 will be more balanced and potentially deeper. For example, TCU and Kansas State top the Big 12 rankings this season. Last season it was Oklahoma State and Baylor. And the year before that, it was the state of Iowa. Fox’s deal also brings a series of Big 12 college basketball games to Fox and FS1 for the first time.

The Big 12, which will be joined next year by BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF, took a different approach to negotiations than the Pac-12, whose media rights expire in 2024. The Pac-12 let its exclusive negotiation windows with ESPN and Fox Sports lapse, allowing the conference to assert its rights in the broader market. Incumbent operators ESPN and Fox are expected to sit at the table, as well as digital media companies like Amazon and Apple.

In the best-case scenario for the conference, this could create the prospect of a bidding war and lead to a healthy increase in sales. The specter of the Big 12 running ahead of the Pac-12 now creates more uncertainty for the Pac-12 as well. But after a destabilizing summer of conference realignment, the Big 12 decided that preserving the security and stability that comes with these media rights deals was most important.

Yormark conducted the talks for the Big 12 but worked closely with them Markus Shapiro and Karen Brodkin from Endeavor and Hillary Mandel by IMG Media. Disney Chair of ESPN and Sports Content Jimmy Pitaro and ESPN President/Programming & Original Content Burke Magnus supported the network during the negotiations alongside VP/Programming & Acquisitions Nick Dawson. On the Fox side, that included the deals team Jordan Bazantwho joined the company earlier this year alongside CEO & Exec Producer Eric ShankPresident & COO Markus Silberman and EVP Larry Jones. This is Bazant’s first major deal since joining the company.

John Ourand can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ and read his weekly newsletter and listen to his weekly podcast. Michael Smith covers college sports. Follow him on Twitter @SmittySBJ and read his weekly newsletter.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated from the version appearing in the October 31 print edition.


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