In a move that was expected, ESPN announced today they have come to an agreement to be the exclusive home of the new college football playoff beginning after the 2014 season. While there were no dollar amounts announced, the reported price of the entire package had been approaching the $500 million dollar range. The contract will run from January 2015 through January 2026. With its previous deals for the Rose, Orange, and Sugar deals, ESPN now has the total package for the new FBS playoff/bowl system. Here's the announcement from ESPN…
"ESPN and the group that will administer the new college football playoff have reached an agreement in principle to present the playoff games and selected other games for 12 years on an exclusive basis across ESPN’s platforms. The agreement will begin after the 2014 regular season (including January 2015) and continue through after the 2025 regular season (January 2026). It includes the national championship game and semifinals, as well as other bowl games that will be part of the rotation to host the semifinals. Combined with previous deals for the Rose, Sugar and Orange Bowls, the arrangement would provide ESPN with rights to all games that are involved in the new post-season arrangement to determine a college football national champion."
While the playoff/bowl conglomerate could have likely got more money had a bidding war developed with Fox, this is the right move for everyone involved. ESPN is the #1 college football network in the country and covers the sport like no other. If you can get past the big picture ethical questions about a network being in business with college football and pushing the buttons behind the scenes (and Matt Millen… and Mark May… and Lee Corso's animal acts), ESPN does far and away the best job covering college football with its depth and quality. Although Fox, CBS, and even NBC have their toes dipped into the water, ESPN owns the college football world. They secured the biggest bowl games earlier this year and now they've secured the semifinals and final of the four team playoff. That goes along with their agreements with all the major conferences. ESPN will remain the dominant force for college football, which is exactly where Bristol wants and needs to be.
Although Bristol has lost a few rights along the way this year, this move shows that they can still get the biggest and most important sports rights packages when they want them. For a $40 billion dollar company, the price tag for the college football playoff is no issue. With the billions ESPN makes in cable fees and the money they shell out for MNF and the NFL annually, the final amount they payed for the playoff is a footnote.
This deal is more about ESPN securing their real estate at the top of the mountain for the next decade plus. By locking out competitors to meaningful postseason college football, ESPN can make sure they are the network that is home to a history making event. And with sports rights fees continuing to climb to astronomic levels, the popularity of college football still growing, and the potential value yet to be known of the playoff, it may turn out that ESPN got a bargain with this deal by the time 2026 rolls around. I'm sure we'll be here to recap it all then.