Over the past two years, the power conferences outside of the SEC and Big Ten have suffered some pretty tough blows. In 2021, the Big 12 lost its two biggest brands in Texas and Oklahoma; and in the following year, the Pac-12 lost two of its flagship members in USC and UCLA. With those departures came a lot of speculation about the future of those respective conferences. In today’s college sports landscape where media rights revenue is paramount, how would the Big 12 and Pac-12 fare at the negotiation table? This weekend, we have our answer for the Big 12.
After another thrilling Saturday of college football, Sports Business Journal reported that the Big 12 reached a deal with ESPN and Fox for a six-year deal worth an estimated $2.3 billion. The deal is an extension of their current deal with the two networks that expires in 2025 when Texas and Oklahoma will depart for the SEC. You might be asking: why a deal was already reached when the current rights didn’t expire until 2025? The answer to that question is that the new Big 12 Commissioner, Brett Yormark, wanted to beat the Pac-12 in announcing a new media rights agreement.
Ever since the Pac-12 joined the Big 12 in the “Power Conference That Just Lost Two of its Biggest Brands Club,” there has been a lot of chatter about which conference has the brighter future. The Big 12 obviously had a year’s head start, and smartly replaced Texas and Oklahoma with BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF, four of the best schools not in a Power 5 conference at the time. The Pac-12 is still yet to announce any expansion plan to date, but their advantage came in the fact that their media rights deal expired sooner than the Big 12’s in 2024. After the Big Ten announced their lucrative deal earlier this fall, the Pac-12 looked to be “next in line” to ink a new deal.
That advantage disappeared a few weeks ago when Brett Yormark announced that his conference was entering into negotiations early with its current media partners, ESPN and Fox. By opening their negotiations ahead of schedule, the Big 12 was contractually obligated to engage in discussions only with the two aforementioned networks. If it didn’t reach a deal with either ESPN or Fox in the exclusive negotiation window, the conference would’ve had to wait until 2024 to take its rights to the open market.
So why did the Big 12 act so quickly when conventional wisdom might say to wait until all the networks could’ve bid on their media rights in this era where live sports are so coveted? While Yormark or any higher-ups in the Big 12 office might not publicly admit it, the answer is that by signing now, they have beaten the Pac-12 to the punch.
Yormark has not been shy about his desire to transform the Big 12 into more of a national brand from coast to coast. The conference recently held a promotional blitz in New York City, where Yormark and other prominent Big 12 figures like Scott Drew and Bob Huggins made the rounds in the media capital of the world. In addition, Yormark has been extremely vocal and open to additional expansion. He’s expressed the desire to reach all four time zones (the Big 12 is currently in three of them) and has claimed the conference is “open for business.”
By beating the Pac-12 to the finish line in terms of the announcement of a new media rights deal, it’s clear that the Big 12’s future is secure, but what about the Pac-12’s? Unlike Yormark, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff has taken more of a “quiet confidence” approach when it comes to his league’s future plans. He has hinted that a new media rights deal could come in the near future, but until anything is signed, speculation will only continue to grow.
There’s no secret that the Big 12 has had its eyes on Pac-12 schools like Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and Utah ever since the USC and UCLA/Big Ten announcement earlier this year. Kliavkoff hasn’t spoken publicly much, but when he has, he’s expressed full confidence that the remaining ten Pac-12 members are committed to the conference long-term. The expectation of many is that the Pac-12 will stay intact, but until a media rights deal with a strong grant of rights is signed, nothing is 100% certain. With the Big 12 signing their new media rights deal, those schools now have a tangible number to look at if they have the slightest interest in moving away from the Pac-12. The Big 12’s deal is expected to include a clause that may incentivize the conference to grow again where additional teams joining the league would receive a pro-rata share of the revenue.
As someone who loves college athletics as a whole, I believe that the best-case scenario is for all conferences to be as healthy as can be. The Big Ten and SEC have separated themselves from the rest in the past few years, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t amazing schools with great athletic programs in the ACC, Big 12, Pac-12, American Athletic, Sun Belt, etc. Hopefully, the Pac-12 lands a great media rights deal in the coming weeks that secures their future like the Big 12 did this weekend. There is a lot of speculation that the Pac-12 could partner heavily with a streaming service looking to invest more in live sports like Amazon or Apple. We’ll see if the Pac-12 can match or even exceed the Big 12 in terms of annual payouts, especially considering they have only ten members to satisfy the Big 12’s twelve. When and if the deal is signed, we’ll have coverage of it here at Conduct Detrimental.
Brendan can be found on Twitter @_bbell5