With the Big 10 and SEC enjoying huge revenue spikes from their networks, the Big 12 and Pac-12 are looking for strategies to keep pace in a landscape that is becoming more lucrative but also more costly to exist in.
The lack of a network owned by all of the conference’s members and a championship game have been pegged as problems for the Big 12, while the Pac-12 is worried about a lack of exposure for its network.
The Pac-12’s biggest concern is over its current television situation. The Pac-12 Network is not carried by DirecTV and Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star says that the estimated $20 million in annual revenue from its current structure isn’t anywhere close to on-par with what the Big 10 and SEC are raking in.
Locked in a TV deal with ESPN and Fox until 2023 that gives the broadcasters leverage in when the conference plays its football games, the focus of how to compete with the Big 10 and SEC seems to be placed elsewhere for the foreseeable future. Efforts at increasing revenue have been placed on the old methods of selling more tickets and increasing donations, according to ESPN.com’s Ted Miller. The Pac-12 isn’t completely stuck in the past, however, as efforts are also being made to change the situation with DirecTV and increase subscriptions to stream the Pac-12 Network.
On the Big 12 side, the struggle is similar, but a potential solution is more complicated. While there is no network shared by all of the conference’s members, one member has its own network that it is reaping the benefits of. The Longhorn Network is bringing in an estimated $15 million annually for the University of Texas, according to Kirk Bohls of the Austin-American Statesman.
This throws a huge curve in the process of creating a Big 12 Network. It’s highly unlikely that Texas would give up the Longhorn Network to join a network in which it had to share revenues with the rest of the conference. It’s highly unlikely that the rest of the conference would sign on to a deal in which Texas would get an enormous share of the revenues while the other schools are left with scraps in comparison.
Also creating a handicap in the race for the almighty dollar for the Big 12 is its current alignment. Research shows that expanding to 12 or more teams and having a conference championship game would increase the Big 12’s chances of reaching the college football playoff as it is currently structured by 10-15 percent. That would represent a 10-15 percent increase in getting part of the revenue that the college football playoff brings in as well.
Additionally, the conference championship game itself would be a highly marketable asset, along with the increased number of conference games created by adding schools. Despite this, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of momentum for expansion in the Big 12, as the sentiment is that the prospect of catching the Big 10 or SEC is unrealistic.
It’s not time for fans of schools in these conferences to panic, however. We don’t know what the landscape of college football will look like in a decade, when current TV deals for the Big 10, Pac-12 and SEC will all have expired and it’s very possible that the college football playoff field will have expanded to eight teams.
In that time, it’s possible that conferences could form agreements that hinge on “price-fixing.” If the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC all agree that the rights to broadcast their games should fetch a certain price and are collectively unwilling to sell the rights for anything less, the playing field would be equalized by that move. Whether or not such collaboration between these conferences would happen remains to be seen, but they could be stronger in negotiations together than they would be separately.
Additionally, an expansion to eight teams by the college football playoff committee would theoretically create room for a Big 12 champion even without any expansion or the addition of a conference championship game by the Big 12. It’s also possible that renewed efforts to create an agreement with DirecTV for the Pac-12 Network could succeed.
While the Big 10 and SEC are the gold standards of maximizing profits right now, the Big 12 and Pac-12 are working to catch up. In 10 years, the conversation of the wealthiest athletic programs in the nation could be very different, depending on whether the initiatives by the Big 12 and Pac-12 fail or succeed.
Main Photo: TUCSON, AZ – SEPTEMBER 26: Defensive lineman Kenny Clark #97 of the UCLA Bruins prepares to take the field before the college football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on September 26, 2015 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)