Big 12 reaches $2.6 billion deal with ESPN, Fox Sports
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Friday, September 07, 2012
9/07/12 at 12:47 PM
Shortly after 6:30 Friday morning Big 12 Conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby was in Stillwater, engaged in what he called "high-fiving" with Oklahoma State president Burns Hargis.
Less than a year after many figured the Big 12 was going under, the league's board of directors had just approved a 13-year TV contract with ESPN and Fox worth a reported $2.6 billion.
According to its terms, television sports' two highest-profile networks will share in selecting games, Fox receiving "enhanced" selection rights through 2015 and the two rotating selections beginning in '16.
Big 12 institutions, meanwhile, will pull in a reported $20 million annually.
What's more, the new contract binds the 10 schools together over the course of the agreement though a grant of rights. Translation: You want to bolt the Big 12 as Missouri and Texas A&M did last year, prompting many to read the league last rites, you leave your TV rights with the conference instead of taking them with you.
"I think many were concerned that we were going to come off the rails again at some point in time. I think this demontrates that that's not going to happen" Bowlsby said. "We're going to be partners for a long, long time."
Texas Tech must still take terms of the contract to its board of regents for formal approval. But Bowlsby called that "a formality," a safe assertion given that Tech was one of the schools in limbo amid talk of Big 12 disintegration this time last year.
Last Sept. 22, University of Oklahoma president David Boren boasted amid the chaos that a grant of rights, a new commissioner and a future TV windfall would see the embattled Big 12 through.
Exactly one year later, it is very likely that Boren will watch the Sooners host Kansas State on the first prime time telecast of Big 12 football on Fox's national outlet.. Fox vice president Karen Brodkin would not confirm that selection Friday out of respect to the contract's 12-day advance selection window, but a look at other options for the Fox Sept. 22 launch date – Kansas at Northern Illinois, Virginia at TCU and Maryland at West Virginia – tells you all you need to know.
One year later, with the new contract in place, OU can now trumpet the arrival of "Sooner Sports TV powered by Fox Sports." University officials have kept quiet about the launch, outside of a website link, Twitter feed and some programming this week, with respect to official completion of the Big 12 TV deal.
Now, you'll likely hear a lot more about Fox Sports' distribution of OU sports to regional platforms including FS Southwest and FS Oklahoma. This will feature third-tier programming, or that not selected by ESPN or Fox networks, like games involving basketball and non-revenue teams, plus coaches shows.
The ESPN/Fox deal, Bowlsby said, "fortifies third tier rights that our institutions are either able to retain and use themselves or sell to a broadcast partner."
Texas sold its third-tier rights to ESPN and launched the Longhorn Network. From a distribution standpoint, that hasn't gone as hoped.
OU has chosen to distribute third-tier programming through Fox regional outlets, a strategy it believes is much more practical, if not as lucrative.
"We at Fox have been talking to a number of Big 12 members over the last number of months. Oklahoma is one of those is," Brodkin said Friday. "We do look forward to completing some deals and announicng some deals in the coming days and weeks, to announce several institutional deals. Hopefully one of those will include Sooner Sports."
In the meantime, OU, OSU and the rest of the Big 12 can revel in the news of the day.
"We expect that this gives us unprecedented exposure," Bowlsby said of the TV deal, "and structurally a lot of stability going forward."
It might even help attract new members. Could the Big 12 add up to 12 again soon?
"We have no active agenda for expansion of the conference at this point in time," Bowlsby said. "That doesn't mean we are oblivious of what might be opportunities going forward.
"But I really believe a period of calm would be advantageous for us and for college athletics in general. We'll continue to talk about expansion I'm sure, but we have a lot going for us. We ought to be slow to share that, unless somebody brings extraordinary cachet."
At least he needn't worry about losing anyone, or about the very future of his conference, for another 13 years. That's a remarkable change over a year's time.
As Larry Jones, Fox Sports chief operating officer, said Friday: "This proves that when everybody sets their minds to something, we can all come out in a better place."