By now you’ve undoubtedly read the news about how Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark had made good on his promise to deliver a media-rights extension for the conference, locking in another six years of coverage on ESPN and Fox. While there is still a bit of i-dotting and t-crossing to be done before the parties sign off on the $2.28 billion pact, the fundamentals are now locked in, and Yormark can commence with the victory lap whenever he sees fit to lace up his running shoes.
Accolades for Yormark’s deal-making have been pouring in from all corners of the Big 12, as BYU hoops coach Mark Pope and Iowa State AD Jamie Pollard are among the chorus of notables who’ve spent the past week singing the new commish’s praises. A little over a year ago, Yormark’s predecessor told Texas lawmakers that the conference could see the value of its TV deal slashed in half as soon as Oklahoma and Texas made their exit. Instead of losing an estimated $14 million per school per year, the Big 12 will instead gain nearly $10 million in rights fees and tournament payouts, by Pollard’s reckoning.
By all accounts, Yormark’s timing was exquisite. Not only did he get the deal done well before the conference’s exclusive negotiating window with the incumbents was set to spring open, but the relatively short extension will allow the Big 12 to begin hashing out its next rights contract before the SEC and ACC are set to hop back into the fray. (The new pact, which kicks off when the current rights deal expires at the end of the 2024-25 campaign, extends through 2030-31. Meanwhile, the clock will run out on the SEC’s legacy deal in 2034, two years prior to the end of the ACC’s standing arrangement with ESPN.)
As far as the networks are concerned, both ESPN and Fox would seem to have settled matters to their satisfaction, although Bristol paid a 70% premium for the Big 12’s “A” package. Insiders say Disney has agreed to fork over $240 million per season in exchange for more than 60% of the inventory and the right to select the top four football matchups each season, and 12 of the top 20. ABC also will continue to air the Big 12 Championship Game; last year’s Baylor-Oklahoma State tilt averaged 8.02 million viewers in the noon ET slot, making it the season’s eighth highest-rated game.
While that leaves Fox to pick among the Big 12’s leftovers, the economics would seem to work in the network’s favor. With Texas and Oklahoma set to depart for the SEC in 2025, the conference should prove to be a model of parity, and next season’s newcomers (BYU, UCF, Cincinnati and Houston) will add even more spice to what’s already a pretty flavorful stew of football “brands.”
More to the point, Fox isn’t in need of a second “A” package, as it is already shaking things up with its early Big Ten window. Per Nielsen, the Big Noon slate has given rise to two of the four most-watched college football games of the season thus far, and the Nov. 26 Michigan-Ohio State game promises to be a blockbuster. (The Game always does a huge number, but the 118th installment of the Buckeyes-Wolverines rivalry could scare up NFL-size deliveries. Both squads are currently 8-0, and the loser is almost certain to get shut out of the College Football Playoff.)
As a lead-in, the early Big Ten window has done a great deal of heavy lifting for Fox’s afternoon games. Through last Saturday’s action, Big 12 games have averaged 3.05 million viewers on Fox, giving the conference an edge over the Pac-12 (2.57 million). By way of comparison, the Big Noon window is currently averaging 5.71 million viewers, topping CBS’s marquee 3:30 p.m. ET slate (4.96 million) and ABC’s Saturday Night Football (4.74 million).
And for anyone who didn’t get the memo about the state of primetime entertainment programming, let it be known that Fox’s afternoon college football broadcasts are a far greater draw than its weeknight fare. Since the broadcast season began back on Sept. 19, Fox’s slate of comedies, dramas and unscripted series is averaging 2.16 million viewers.
Moreover, the new deal gives Fox a taste of some Big 12 basketball action. In recent years, the conference has elbowed aside the ACC as the nation’s premier college hoops showcase, with Kansas and Baylor claiming the 2020-21 and 2021-22 men’s titles. Houston and Cincinnati should only intensify the Big 12’s hardwood luster.
If conference realignment continues apace, and the Big 12 at some point decides to recruit another batch of outside schools, Fox won’t be on the hook to fund the expansion. While it’s no secret that the network has never been a fan of including expansion provisions in its rights contracts—after all, it’s never wise to let someone else shop with your personal credit card—that’s not to say that Fox wouldn’t be open to such an option should it dovetail with its own objectives.
In the grand scheme of things, Fox’s annual $140 million payout is small potatoes compared to its standing MLB ($730 million) and FIFA World Cup deals ($425 million). The extension also allows for a fair amount of flexibility; under the terms of its new Big 12 contract, the network will continue to have the option to sublicense games to third-party streamers.
Value is a commodity of perception, and bargains are largely subjective, but the Big 12 extension may well be one of those rare instances where all parties have managed to secure exactly what they need, and at a price that won’t trigger future spasms of buyer’s remorse.