At the Big XII meetings in Kansas City on Tuesday, Big XII Commissioner Dan Beebe talked about needing to have a commitment from his schools before attempting to attempting to negotiate new television deals. The talk is of waiting until next April to begin to deal with the successor to the Big XII's deal with Fox Sports Net.
"I need to know what apples are in the cart when I go to market and I think we’ll have that by the time we start negotiations, not just by the time we finish it."
But here's the problem. Dan Beebe might not have that much time. By then, the Big Ten may have already picked off one or more teams. The Pac-10 may as well, forcing the SEC to join in the fun.
No, Dan Beebe is wasting his time trying to talk schools into staying in the Big XII. Even Texas is scouting out their options should the Big XII collapse.His mission coming out of this week's meetings shouldn't be to convince teams to stay. His mission needs to make the Big XII difficult to leave. And it all starts with negotiating a new television deal...and that's a process that needs to start now.
The ACC recently negotiated a new 12 year deal with ABC/ESPN for $1.86 billion. Not quite a match for the SEC's $3 billion deal over 15 years with ABC/ESPN and CBS, but a heck of a lot closer than where they were previously. These deals provide both hope and concerns for the Big XII. Hope in that it shows that there is money available for a major upgrade in revenue for the Big XII. Concern is that expanded coverage of the SEC and the ACC on the ESPN family of networks doesn't leave a lot of timeslots available for the Big XII.
Is the Big XII network the answer? It certainly should be on the table, but finding carriage in an increasingly saturated cable television world for yet another network is a concern. Despite the Big Ten Network's financial success, BTN still isn't available in most homes in this country. At last count, 45 million homes in the US and 75 million overall have BTN available. Even the NFL (the gold standard for sports in this country) hasn't been able to break through many cable systems either.
Certainly a Big XII Network is something to consider, but before making that kind of commitment, Beebe needs to pursue other channels to find an opening for the Big XII. I see three opportunities for the Big XII to pursue:
Fox Sports drove the price for the ACC up rather dramatically in this last round of negotiations, but FSN as a destination leaves a little to be desired. FSN's productions have at times been amateur at times, with horrible announcing crews at times. (Artie Gigantino, anybody?) Plus, FSN broadcasts are frequently preempted in metropolitan areas for pro sports (baseball in September, then basketball and hockey in October and November). But after losing the BCS and now the ACC to ESPN, the Big XII might be the answer to reclaim their position. Here's my suggestion: convince Fox to utilize not only the FSN regional networks, but also Fox affiliates nationwide. Encourage Fox to carry a Big XII game nationwide on their over-the-air stations on Saturdays, as well as basketball in the winter.
NBC has been the home of Notre Dame, but that relationship might end if the Irish jump to the Big Ten. Even so, the six or seven Notre Dame football games that NBC televisions shouldn't be a huge impediment to expanding college football broadcasts on the Peacock network. In fact, Big XII/Notre Dame doubleheaders some weeks could give ABC some competition. ABC and NBC have found that sports makes for compelling prime time programming on weekends; maybe there is some interest in forging a relationship there.
Even more intriguing here is Comcast's proposed merger with NBC/Universal. If this deal completes, Versus becomes a very intriguing complementary player in a deal with NBC/Universal. Perhaps an early afternoon game on Versus combined with a primetime game on NBC.
CBS and Turner recently reached an agreement to carry the NCAA basketball tournament over the next 14 years. Only problem with this deal is that Turner doesn't have any other college programming at this time. Maybe they are interested. The only conflict is the MLB playoffs on TBS in October, but perhaps a deal utilizing TNT could be lucrative. Turner might be interested in Big XII basketball games to build their brand name, perhaps leveraging their NBA rights to be the "home of basketball".
The goal of any deal should not only be to increase the money coming in, but also increase the exposure and availability of the Big XII. The last few years, the Big XII has arguably become the second best college football conference. Five different Big XII schools have been in the BCS title race in recent years (Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Kansas, and Missour). Husker fans think that the Big Red is ready to crash this party. The only thing the Big XII lacks is native televisions in their markets, but maybe the national brand of the Big XII transcends geography.
The only way Beebe can find out is to start the discussions now, and start putting together a deal now. Make a deal this summer or fall and preempt the Big Ten at the game they started. Or wait and see what's left.