Apparently, ESPN and Fox are looking to backtrack on their TV deal with the Big 12.
So say John Ourand and Michael Smith of SportsBusiness Journal, who reported today that the two broadcasting giants don’t want to pay college sports’ zaniest conference for adding teams from outside the Power 5 leagues.
Assuming ESPN and Fox really are contractually obligated to pay pro-rata increases to the conference’s TV deal in the event of expansion, the move seems pretty galling. Signing a bad deal is a you problem.
Even more irritating?
There’s also some history here. Executives at ESPN and Fox remember 2010 when they helped hold the conference together against the Pac-12’s raid by keeping rights fees at the 12-team level, even though the Big 12 was reduced to 10 teams — Nebraska left for the Big Ten, while Colorado departed for the Pac-12.
Another option would be to go along with the increases now and not support the Big 12 in 2025, when the grant of rights and the TV deals expire.
Sounds like they think we're dumb.
ESPN wasn't trying to “hold the Big 12 together” back in 2010 out of some sense of charity. The Worldwide Leader recognized the threat posed by the proposed Pac-16 and took decisive action to cut Larry Scott and his conference off at the knees. If it did pay a premium for the Big 12’s content, including the Longhorn Network, the goal was to retain a measure of market power on the West Coast that was under assault.
Likewise, we’re supposed to believe that ESPN and Fox would sit out the next round of TV negotiations with the Big 12 because… they’re holding a grudge?
The people running the networks have to answer to investors. If they’re giving away money for no reason just to hold a conference together, it’s difficult to see how a management team could justify that to shareholders. It would be just about as indefensible to skip an opportunity to bid on a contract simply because you got played the time before.
To sum it all up: The shot-callers at ESPN and Fox are arguing that Big 12 schools should cut them a break out of loyalty. Otherwise, they are threatening to take their ball and go home.
That sounds like arrogance or the kind of desperation that comes from being overextended. Either way, it should add to the growing concerns about the future of the media landscape and the architects who are shaping it.