Thursday, October 22, 2009

An Updated Comparison of Conference TV Contracts

[Note: This article was originally published on this site and on September 18, 2009 and this updated version (with regards to the Big East and Notre Dame) supersedes all that was written previously.]

Once again, the Mountain West is taking collateral damage from its TV partners in the standoff between Direct TV and Comcast over Versus, and has raised the issue of conference television contracts to the forefront. Of particular note is the fact that ESPN Game Day will be in Provo to catch the excitement of the BYU vs. TCU game, while Versus will actually be broadcasting the game, but just not into any homes with Direct TV (most college football fans, and especially out-of-footprint MWC fans).

However, it is not just the MWC that desires more from its TV partners. I wrote a piece comparing the TV contracts with each conference back in September prior to the Florida State game. That article has been one of the most widely cited, searched, and seen publications on this site. It was pointed out that Notre Dame had not been included and that I had not considered the basketball schools from the Big East. I have addressed both of those concerns in this updated view.

With that introduction, let’s take a closer look at the MWC TV contract relative to the other conferences’ contracts, including the pros and cons of each.

[I should note that I am a non-MWC footprint Direct TV subscriber, and a relatively happy one at that. This year and last year have offered great access to all of the BYU games as well as most other conference games—almost enough good times to help me forget the years of purgatory, when in 2006 and 2007 many of the games were not available to me at any price. It was during those lean times that I purchased a Slingbox, which has merely acted as my emergency backup during the recent fat times, but may be called upon to come through in the clutch this weekend due to the Versus contract disputes.]

Conf   Teams $/Year  $/Yr/Tm   TV Partners
SEC       12     $205.0     $17.1     CBS, ESPN
Big 10    11     $174.0     $15.8     BTN, ABC/ESPN, CBS*
ND          1      $11.0       $11.0    NBC, Big East*
Big 12    12     $79.5       $6.6      ABC/ESPN, FSN
ACC       12     $66.9       $5.6      ABC/ESPN, Raycom*
Pac 10    10     $53.2       $5.3     ABC/ESPN, FSN, ABC/ESPN*
Big East  8^     $45.3       $3.7     ABC/ESPN, CBS*
MWC      9      $12.0       $1.3     CBSC/Mtn.
CUSA     12     $11.3       $0.9     CBSC, ESPN
WAC       9       $4.0        $0.4     ESPN
MAC       13      $1.4        $0.1     ESPN
Sunbelt    9       $0.0       $0.0     ESPN, Cox/Charter

*Separate basketball contracts
^Big East has 16 schools, only 8 of which participate in football and receive $1.7M each for football only; All 16 schools receive an additional $2.0M per year for basketball

When it comes to taking a closer look at the contracts, there are essentially four tiers—The Haves, The Wannabe Haves, The Not-Quite Have-Nots, and the Have-Nots. It is interesting to note that every conference, with the exception of the MWC, has some sort of arrangement with ESPN.

Upon closer consideration (and in light of the SEC/ESPN domino), it appears that the trend is toward larger, longer contracts for the conferences with the biggest TV draws, which leaves fewer slots and dollars for the rest of the football world. The MWC and Big Ten have chosen to create their own networks in an effort to combat that trend. The Big 12, ACC, Pac 10 are exploring that option now. Notre Dame has watched helplessly as it relinquished its title as king of college football television, as all SEC teams now make more than it does, yes, even Vanderbilt. The Big East is hanging on to what it has (primarily stemming from legacy efforts and basketball prowess) and looking to improve its lineup for the next go-around. Conference USA is heading back down to the have-nots and the WAC is hoping to move up to the not-quite have-nots. Overall, the MWC package is better than any of the alternatives its non-AQ brethren have by a long shot.

The Haves
The SEC and Big 10 are a head and shoulders above everyone else. The bar has been set and other conferences that want to keep up are scrambling to find a way to match the TV revenue that they are going to bring in over the next 15 years.

1. SEC
The SEC has an $825M, 15 year contract with CBS, for an exclusive time slot and first pick of games (14 regular season and championship game). The league made headlines earlier this summer when it signed a second 15 year deal for $2.25B with ESPN. ESPN gets its pick of the rest of the games, some of which are sublicensed to regional carriers. It is hard to find any issues with these arrangements. This large investment by ESPN will ensure that college football fans continue to hear about the “dominance” of the SEC from the Sports Leader for years to come, and due to limited time slots, will also preclude other leagues from signing similarly valued deals with ESPN.

2. Big 10
The Big Ten Network launched last year and is projected to bring in $2.8B over the next 25 years; this also guarantees coverage for all of the leagues games. In addition, there is a $1.0B, 10 year contract with ABC/ESPN, and a $20M, 10 year basketball deal with CBS. When the SEC is essentially using ESPN as its own conference network, the Big 10 did the next best thing by starting its own, and has a high enough profile to generate more viewers and dollars than the Mtn.

3. Notre Dame
Notre Dame was once the king of the college football television world and it wasn’t even close. However, recently, it must find itself looking up at the Big 10 and SEC with envy and imagining the implications of being left behind. Despite this, it still brings in almost double the next closest school, and so remains one of the “haves” but could be quickly relegated to “wannabe have” status in the next 3-5 years. The school agreed to a 5 year contract extension with its football TV partner NBC this summer, and although terms have not been disclosed, they are believed to be in the same neighborhood as the previous contract, which would put it at about $9.0M per year. For basketball, the Irish are affiliated with the Big East and bring in another $2.0M per year or so. If Notre Dame ever decides to end its independent status, it will be because of its inability to remain relevant and draw viewers (and thus TV dollars) while being left out of the ongoing BCS and conference supremacy debate.

The Wannabe Haves
The Big 12, ACC, and Pac 10 feel an urgency to keep up with the Joneses. Rumors of creation of joint TV networks between Big 12 and ACC or Pac 10 and ACC have been flying. The Pac 10 brought in a new commissioner with the primary task of working out a more favorable TV arrangement (Pac 10 expansion may even be a possibility).

4. Big 12
There is a $480M, 8 year deal with ABC to show first pick of up to 19 games per season (and ESPN has rights to all basketball games). FSN has a 4 year, $78M deal to show the rest. Of those, FSN has sublicensed 7 games to ESPN and 5 to Versus. Overall good exposure, but significantly less compensation for the effort than the SEC or Big 10.

5. ACC
The addition of Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College has not quite played out in TV market land as was hoped. The ACC has a 7 year, $258M contract with ABC/ESPN that is expiring soon. In that deal, ABC gets first pick, then ESPN/ESPN2, then Raycom (as part of basketball deal), and lastly ESPNU. Raycom has a subordinate deal with them for 10 years for $300M for basketball. The ESPN contract requires a marquee game on Labor Day each year. It is obvious that the conference is exploring all avenues as it has been linked to nearly all of the mega conference TV network deal rumors.

6. Pac 10
The main contract here is $125M with ABC/ESPN for 20 games per year over 5 years ending in 2011. There is another contract with FSN for 5 years and $97M—5 of those games have been sublicensed to Versus, keeping 13 windows for games on FSN. The remainder of the games end up on a hodgepodge of Fox regional networks such as FSN Northwest, Fox Sports West, Fox Sports Arizona, Oregon Sports Netowrk, CSN Bay Area, etc. The prime gripe here is that most games are not readily available to a national audience. New conference commissioner Larry Scott was able to raise the profile of the Women’s Tennis Tour through savvy TV contracts and was hired to do the same with the Pac 10.

The Not-Quite Have-Nots
The Big East, Mountain West and Conference USA find themselves with real TV contracts that actually compensate them for the product (differentiating them from the WAC, MAC and Sunbelt), but for annual amounts and levels of exposure that don’t qualify them to be in the same grouping with the previous four conferences. It leaves them looking up with envy, but also looking down knowing it could be worse. The Big East is by far the best off of these three, and could be argued that it deserves to be with the group above based on total revenue, but since more than half of its money comes from basketball, leaving football only TV revenue of $1.7M (which is close to what the MWC makes), and the fact that it has been forced to play games at rather fringe start times, the Big East has been placed in this group. It is also unlikely that the Big East will be able to maintain that level of revenue in its next contract unless some significant changes are made.

7. Big East
The Big East has a 6 year, roughly $218M deal with ESPN ($80M for football split 8 ways and $138M for basketball split 16 ways) running through 2013, which appears to be a Mike Tranghese boondoggle. In any case, the league is getting paid and has 17 games guaranteed to be on ABC or ESPN, with at least 3 on ABC. In order to achieve that the conference had to agree to up to 4 games on Thursdays, 2 on Sundays and mutually agreeable Friday games. 5 additional games can appear on ESPNU. Given that this is only an 8 team league, there are not that many games to begin with, especially in conference, and only 37% of these televised games ended up being played on Saturdays, effectively ensuring no marquee Big East games on the sport’s biggest day. The conference also has a 6 year $54M contract with CBS that pays another $9M per year (but must be split 16 ways). So football schools make $3.7M per year ($1.7M from football and $2.0M from basketball), while the basketball only schools get roughly $2.0M each). This is the only conference that makes more from televising its basketball games than it does from its football games, and likely owes its status as an AQ-BCS football conference to its perception as the number one basketball conference. With the recent beating the conference has taken in the media and from fans, there are rumors that the Big East is again looking to expand (Memphis or an ACC reverse raid), in order to improve its profile and reputation and cling to its football TV revenue.

8. Mountain West
After leaving ESPN, for increased revenue and regular game times, the Mountain West television situation is finally settling down. What was originally a 12 year, $120M contract with CSTV, added Comcast the day after it was announced, and was since sold to CBS College Sports. The Mtn. was created and Versus (which is owned by Comcast) was given 8 games per year (as part of the contract 8 games per year must be distributed to a national audience of 70 million homes or more). CBSC has the rights to up to 24 games per year (and has selected 11 this year). Overall, the national footprint/access is improving as is the quality of the product; however, what suffers is the exposure on ESPN—both on TV and online, as the station does not have any vested interest in developing the leauge’s profile. There is also no web streaming available.

9. Conference USA
There is a legacy contract with ESPN/ESPN2 for 10 games per season paying $45.8M and another with CBSC for $22M over 6 years for its pick of the remainder of the games. Both contracts end at the end of the 2010 football season, and were originally set up pre-Big East raid of Cincinnati, Louisville, and South Florida, and pre-MWC raid of TCU. Many games required to be played on weeknights, in order to get on TV. When these contracts end, the conference will likely take a major hit on the revenue and exposure side of things.

The Have-Nots
10. WAC
The conference moves from its $1M per year contract with ESPN to one paying closer to $4M per year starting in 2010-11. The old deal allows ESPN/ESPN2 rights to a minimum of 8 games and the new deal requires a minimum of 10. The new deal also requires at least 6 games on ESPNU. Many of the games on ESPN/ESPN2 will be played on weeknights in order to find TV time. The silver lining in all of this is the online streaming and rights retained by schools for games not televised. This contract leaves a lot to be desired, but it is something and provides the exposure that is desperately needed by a conference trying to raise its profile. Should Boise no longer be a member of this conference during the next round of negotiations, look for the TV situation to take a step backwards.

11. MAC
The MAC will take what it can get. It has an 8 year, roughly $11M deal with ESPN to televise a minimum of 11 games—6 on ESPN/ESPN2 and 5 on ESPNU. Nearly all of these games will be played on weeknights. The bright spot for the MAC is that the creation of the Big Ten Network and the removal of Big Ten games from regional networks is that there is a demand for sports programming on many of the regional networks and many MAC games are being syndicated regionally.

12. Sunbelt
Its not easy being at the bottom of the college football food chain. The Sunbelt has a 3 year contract with ESPN to show at least 2 games per year. These games must be willing to allow for a 12 day advance scheduling window and play on weeknights. It isn’t clear if the league even receives any meaningful compensation for its product, but is looking for exposure however it can get it. Comcast/Charter Sports own the regional rights.

Note: Here are a few links to other sources covering TV contracts…


  1. How can a team like BYU be expected to compete nationally with teams from the SEC, Big 12, etc.? Their revenue is much, much larger. On top of that, BYU is limited in its recruiting due to academic and honor code standards. Fans that are never happy unless we get a national championship just aren't realistic and need to pick a new favorite team. Frankly, I'm happy when we win the conference championship and go to a bowl game along with keeping our high standards. Winning truly isn't everything.

  2. Authors Note: The actual contracts for these conferences are not made available. And, although in some cases (MWC and SEC, for example)the conference headquarters will reveal the value of the contract, this article is the result of scouring all available information and trying to provide the most accurate estimate available.

    There has been some suggestion from those close to the Sun Belt Conference that their television contract is roughly the same on a per team basis as the MAC, which would mean $0.9 total and $0.1 per team in annual payment.

    I would assume that fans of this conference would know better than I, although I have not found any information supporting their claim.

    In any case, if we are debating down to the level of $100K per year, then I would still claim that the amount is essentially meaningless.