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Breaking Down the Big 12’s New Media Deal

What it means for UCF

NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Basketball Tipoff
Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark
William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

This story has been updated.

The Big 12 finally has its new media deal, and it’s big indeed.

According to John Ourand and Michael Smith of Sports Business Journal, the conference has reached an agreement with ESPN and Fox on a six-year deal worth $2.28 billion:

The $380 million annual figure works out to an average of $31.67 million to each of the 12 conference members. The deal has not been officially confirmed by the conference, Fox, or ESPN.

Reports indicate that the deal will also include:

  • A grant of rights (per Ourand and Smith), which locks in the membership through 2030-2031 by stipulating that any school that leaves before the deal’s expiration forfeits its media payouts for the length of the contract. The members would have to agree to this once the contract goes before them.
  • A pro-rata clause (per Max Olson of The Athletic), which means if a school decides to join, the value of the contract goes up by the per-school amount (i.e., the payout pie gets bigger by one slice). More on this below.

The Big 12’s media rights deal wasn’t due to come up for at least a year, but in the wake of Oklahoma and Texas leaving for the SEC, Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark and his team decided to open the negotiation window early with ESPN and Fox, ostensibly to get the jump on the Pac-12, which just saw two of its top brands — USC and UCLA — also leave for the Big Ten.

This is a massive win for the Big 12, and especially the UCF Knights, and we’re going to break it down right here.

Where will we see the games?

According to Ourand and Smith, ESPN takes the belt from Fox as the prime rightsholder. Each season, the Worldwide Leader gets the bulk of the first picks of conference games:

“ESPN gets the top four football picks each season, six of the top eight picks, eight of the top 12 picks and 12 of the top 20 picks.”

They also get the Big 12 Football Championship and Basketball Tournament.

However, Fox will continue to be a key outlet for football through both the broadcast network and FS1, and will add Big 12 hoops to its portfolio for the first time.

How does this compare to the previous deal?

The Big 12’s previous deal was signed in 2012, and paid its ten members $2.6 billion over its 13 years. That worked out to an average of about $20 million per school annually.

This new deal will pay each school approximately $31.67 million per year on average.

According to Dennis Dodd of CBS, once you include the College Football Playoff payouts, bowl payouts, and NCAA Basketball Tournament credits, the total annual payout could be in the realm of $45-47 million, and exceed $50 million if and when the CFP expands to 12 teams, as it is expected to do.

How does this compare to the AAC’s media deal?

The American’s most recent media deal (signed two years ago) paid UCF and its conference counterparts an average of $7 million per year, although the deal is reportedly backloaded, so the payouts from the first couple of years are likely less than that.

For UCF, the new Big 12 deal is a 4.5x raise and equates to almost $150 million more in media revenue over the life of the deal.

How does this compare to other P5 conferences?

The Big 12’s new deal puts it firmly in third among Power Five leagues in annual media deal payout based on the newest deals, all of which will last into the 2030s:

  • Big Ten: ~$80-100M per year through 2029-2030 with Fox, CBS and NBC
  • SEC: ~$68M per year through 2033-2034 with ESPN
  • Big 12: $31.67M per year through 2030-2031 with ESPN and Fox
  • ACC: ~$20M per year through 2035-2036 with ESPN
  • Pac-12: Still under negotiation (most recent: $20.8M with Fox and ESPN)

Given how the ACC’s deal isn’t up for another decade-plus, and the Big 12 comes up for renewal before everyone except the Big Ten, the conference is well positioned to bring in far more revenue than their east coast peers, including Florida State and Miami.

What are UCF’s terms?

According to Jason Beede of the Orlando Sentinel ($), the four new entrants to the Big 12 — UCF, Cincinnati, Houston, and BYU — will not get full shares in their first two years. Instead, they will get:

  • $18 million in 2023
  • $19 million in 2024
  • Full shares starting with the new contract in 2025, once Oklahoma and Texas get out of the way.

That’s still a massive jump from The American, which paid UCF about $8 million in 2020-2021, and whose deal would max out at $10 million per year by the time it expires in 2031.

What about Tier 3 rights?

Per ESPN’s Pete Thamel:

“This extension will mark the end of what’s known as third-tier rights for the Big 12, in which schools controlled certain game inventory. Instead, those third-tier rights will be distributed to ESPN, which means the schools no longer have to sell them.“

In the previous Big 12 deal, the schools were permitted to sell their Tier 3 rights (usually a football game, a few non-conference men’s basketball games, most women’s basketball games plus sports that aren’t football or men’s basketball) to independent rightsholders, and they often did to then-Fox’s portfolio of regional sports networks. You will also recall that this is how we got the Longhorn Network.

Those are now under the ownership of Sinclair Broadcasting, which is hemorrhaging money trying to keep them afloat and may sell them outright. The streaming revolution has not been kind to these entities, and so we may see the new Big 12’s Tier 3 rights go to ESPN in the form of ESPN+, which has a preexisting relationship with the Big 12 and has brought great value to UCF in particular.

What about that pro-rata clause?

Marchand and Ourand discussed the deal on their latest podcast. In this clip, Marchand mentions a couple of key things:

  1. According to his reporting, the pro-rata clause would only kick in if the Big 12 were to invite another Power Five school. That would effectively slam the door on Mountain West (Boise State, San DiegoState) and/or AAC (Memphis, South Florida, etc.) schools hopping over.
  2. The pro-rata clause is only in the ESPN side of the deal right now. Fox hasn’t yet agreed to it (and remember, this deal is really two contracts — one with ESPN and another with Fox):

So as it stands, any Pac-12 school that may come knocking would not get the same amount of money as everyone else — that is, unless Fox agrees to the pro-rata clause in the final deal.

So...Expansion maybe?

Eh, we still have some hurdles to cross.

Yormark has made it clear that he does want to continue expansion, preferably west of the current footprint. Exactly with whom is another question.

The rumors of the “Four Corners schools” — Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and Utah — jumping ship have been floating about for a while. But any movement regarding the Pac-12 will have to wait until we see the terms of their next media deal, which is currently on the open market (in contrast to the Big 12’s negotiation strategy of getting back together with the current rightsholders early and beating the Pac-12 to the money).

A Big 12 grant of rights — and the stability it provides — would be an attractive proposition for Pac-12 schools who want to leave, since it has also been rumored that Oregon and Washington may want to join USC and UCLA in the Big Ten if given the opportunity, and are likely against the idea of a grant of rights in the new Pac-12 media deal when it comes to pass. Add in the uncertainty of exactly what kind of money the Pac-12 would get from its rights partners, and the Big 12 could indeed benefit from the winds of expansion.

But that’s only if Fox makes it worthwhile by agreeing to the pro-rata clause, or if the disparity in money is so huge that it simply doesn’t matter anymore.

But for now, we just don’t know enough to even speculate, even though I just did exactly that in the previous three paragraphs.

Until then, we await the official terms of the new deal. When it’s officially announced, we’ll break it down further.