Big 12 Becomes 1st P5 Conference to Put Football, Basketball Behind ESPN+ Paywall


The Big 12 Conference has inked a 5-year $40 million pact (SBJ) with ESPN that will give the cable network (or ABC) the exclusive broadcast rights to the conference’s football championship games in ’19, ’21 and ’23 – they already owned the rights to the ’20, ’22 and ’24 games. The deal also provides ESPN with the exclusive streaming rights to a package of regular season football and basketball games (plus a collective of events from non-revenue generating sports). Every school (except Texas and Oklahoma) will have a football game (+ their annual spring game) air exclusively on ESPN+ and all conference basketball games not televised on a linear ESPN channel (expected to be 75+/season) will be exclusive to the platform.

Howie Long-Short: When Fox passed on the opportunity to carry the Big 12’s odd-year championship games (because they’re preparing to go “all-in” on the Big 10), we told you that ESPN would grab them. What we didn’t expect was for the conference to agree to tie football and men’s basketball broadcasts exclusively to a digital platform, so the deal is quite the coup for ESPN+. Collegiate sports rights are particularly valuable to the burgeoning OTT service because of the emotional connection fans have to their alma mater. The belief is that bond makes it “more likely [that the fan would] buy a $5 monthly subscription” to watch their team’s games than a supporter of a pro sports franchise. There may be something to that. No sports have a higher percentage of “fanatics with high net worth” than college football and college basketball.

SBJ reported that the Big 12 had been seeking $20 million/per for each of the 3 championship games – and they’re getting $30 million/per for the ’20, ‘22 and ’24 games – so there’s no question the WWL won this round of negotiations. They held the leverage because with Fox out of the bidding, “few [other] media companies” wanted to buy the rights. Inclusion of the 3rd and 4th tier television inventory enabled the Big 12 to squeeze more out of the network than they would have been able to get for just the championship games, but considering the AAC just signed a deal with ESPN worth $83.3 million/year (it’s a more expansive package, but it’s digital heavy) it’s hard to believe that their streaming rights weren’t worth more.

$40 million – over 6 years, split 10 ways – does little to close the gap between the Big 12 schools and college athletics’ wealthiest conferences. In 2018, it was projected each of the 10 schools would receive $36.5 million in media rights payouts, while Big 10 and SEC schools raked in +/- $50 million and +/- $43 million, respectively.

When the ACC Network launches in August, the Big 12 will be the lone P5 conference without its own network. This deal doesn’t change that, but with 8 of the conference’s 10 schools serving up “more than 50 exclusive events per year” to a Big 12 branded section of ESPN+, it’ll feel like one – just not on linear television. Texas and Oklahoma will occasionally appear on the streaming service as the road team, but UT’s commitment to the Longhorn Network (ESPN) and OU’s to the Sooner Sports Network (Fox) prevent those schools from producing content for ESPN+.

Fan Marino: Big 12 fans may not love paying $4.99/mo. for games they used to receive for free, but they should enjoy games kicking/tipping off in prime-time as opposed to in the early (or late) TV window; remember, unlike linear tv channels, streaming platforms can serve up several games to a subscriber at the same time. The conference’s deal with ESPN+ gives the schools the ability to determine the start times for games.

The expanded partnership between the conference and ESPN will also benefit non-revenue generating sports that previously lacked the exposure needed to recruit nationally.

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Author: John Wall Street

At the intersection of sports & finance.

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