The past few weeks have been stuffed with stories about progress on the Big 12 expansion front. During its media days, the Big 12 officially announced it would be exploring expansion candidates. Then rumors circulated that the conference would like to finish the process before football season while the American Athletic Conference acknowledged some current members may be poached.#Big12Confirmed, my friends, was really getting going.
Cue the record scratch.
According to Sports Business Journal, ESPN and FOX are not so happy about this whole Big 12 expansion business and have showed up to shut down the party like neighbors making a noise complaint. In the report, the Journal said that expanding by two teams would cause ESPN and FOX to pay an additional $40 million per year in rights fees based on its current deals. That is not a price either network appears ready to pay for any of the programs currently linked as strong contenders for Big 12 expansion, including Cincinnati. As SBJ noted, the networks fear that adding teams is just a money grab and will lead to a diluted conference.
SBJ said there are a number of ways this could all work out. The networks could pay out less for new members, which obviously would be a big negative for UC or any other team that joined. There is also the possibility that this could all wind up in court, although that is not ideal for either party. Finally, ESPN or FOX could bite the bullet and take on the new rights payments until 2025 when the Big 12’s current TV deals expire, and then cut ties.
It seems unlikely that the Big 12 will just ignore ESPN and FOX's concerns and go through with expansion. It shouldn't burn bridges for future broadcasting rights just to add some more money right now. The risk of a legal scuffle is not a good burden either, especially for a conference trying to catch up with the SEC and Big Ten. Commissioner Bill Bowlsby at least seems ready to come to the negotiating table in order to make a deal that helps both sides.
I asked Bowlsby this. His response: "Everything is a negotiation." https://t.co/kgag6gkUZ7— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) August 1, 2016
What all this means for the continued saga of Big 12 expansion is as of yet unclear. What is clear is that last week, when we thought everything was secure, we were entirely naive. There is still a lot left to get through before any of this becomes a reality.