It’s that magical time of the year when college football fans celebrate their favorite teams’ financial windfalls with the same passion as when a conference rival wins a national championship.
Not surprisingly, the SEC last week announced a major bump in distributions to its members on the strength of its new media deal with ESPN, up from roughly $21 million last year to $31 million in the latest go-round. Meanwhile, the Big 12 announced its members would receive $25 million.
The varying structures of the conferences’ media deals and revenue-sharing agreements can add exponential degrees of difficulty to comparisons between the conferences. However, now that we have a sense of where the SEC and Big 12 stand in the college sports cash grab, what did we learn?
SEC Network effect
The eye-popping increase in distributions from the SEC office to conference members generated the expected media swooning over the success of the SEC Network and outgoing commissioner Mike Slive’s business savvy.
However, as Chadd Scott of sportsdaynow.com points out, the SEC Network’s reported $5.5 million payment to each school for this cycle is barely a blip on their bigger financial radars. Based on information from USA Today’s database of NCAA finances, the 13 public universities in the SEC had average sports revenues of $105.4 million and average expenses of roughly $97 million in 2014. In other words, the money from the network in year one is peanuts.
Maybe the SEC Network’s annual distributions to the conference’s schools will triple or quadruple over the course of the conference’s 20-year pact with ESPN. That would make for a nice chunk of change. Even so, the operative question: Would that revenue really give the Alabamas and Floridas a more substantial competitive advantage than they already have?
Big 12 still big business
The Big 12 has by far and away the smallest geographic footprint of any major conference, but it still managed to generate a healthy $25 million for every school that received a full distribution. That sum also doesn’t account for the conference’s, ahem, unique approach to third-tier media rights.
Even if the those side deals only direct minimal money to schools such as Baylor and Iowa State, it’s interesting to consider that, as of right now, they’re still not that far off from an LSU or Georgia in this particular corner of college sports’ financial ecosystem. Streamlining with just 10 teams appears to be paying off financially for the Big 12.
What about Texas and BevoTV?
The Longhorn Network apparently makes UT the biggest winner in this year’s Ego Bowl. The LHN deal with ESPN generates $15 million per year for UT. Combine that with $25 million from the Big 12, and Texas will take in $40 million this year.
Oklahoma actually makes out pretty well, too: A reported $6 million annually from its third-tier deal with Fox for SoonerSportsTV would bring its haul to $31 million this year.
It’s safe to say that the arrangement with the Big 12 is treating the Red River rivals well.
Back to where we started
Once realignment tipped off in 2010, the announcements of conference media deals followed a familiar pattern. Twitterers would toss out make it rain gifs set to press releases. Pundits would talk about how Commissioner X adroitly positioned Conference of the Moment to capitalize on the white hot market for live sports. Schools from the perpetual middle of the pack would start plotting how they would spend their newfound wealth to pass their peers in other conferences.
The Big Ten is the only Power Five conference left to negotiate a new television deal in this latest cycle, and that should be a whopper. Yet, despite all the fanfare that accompanied these contract announcements, the relative valuations haven’t changed. The Pac-12 and ACC continue to be hurt by a lack of enthusiasm. The Big 12 still has demographic challenges. The SEC and Big Ten are still the most valuable.
Ultimately, the advent of conference networks and third-tier rights deals might have changed the monetary order of magnitude, but we should probably hold off on knee-jerk declarations about new competitive dynamics in college sports every time an announcement is made. The rising tide of money in college sports may lift all boats, but the pecking order stays the same.