You already knew this (or guessed it, if you were thinking about such things), but not being one of the Power Five conferences in college football does not bring in the television cash these days. For Conference USA, that reality is becoming all too clear.
According to The Virginian-Pilot‘s Harry Minium, the 14 schools in the conference will each see their TV revenues reduced by $500,000 next season as part of Conference USA’s new contracts with Fox Sports and CBS Sports Network. The new deal will go into effect July 1.
Conference USA is the first mid-major FBS league to renegotiate its TV contract since conferences realigned. The TV landscape is obviously much different now, with networks like ESPN suffering losses as increasing numbers of viewers ditch cable for streaming options to watch sports and entertainment.
As you might expect, C-USA officials aren’t officially commenting, perhaps because they’re hoping to find a better deal elsewhere. (American Sports Network is among the outlets the conference is talking to.) Or the intention is to hold a formal announcement until the annual winter meetings of the school presidents and athletic directors in Boca Raton, Fla. from Jan. 25-27. As of right now, there is no TV home for the Conference USA football championship game, nor the men’s basketball tournament final.
During the past six years, Conference USA has gotten more than $14 million per year from its TV contracts, which averages out to just over $1 million per school. Compare that to the $22 million that SEC schools each receive from their TV contracts, and the disparity is stark indeed. Even other mid-major conferences draw more money, such as the $2 million that American Athletic Conference schools generate and the $1.7 million that goes to each Mountain West school.
But as Doug Smock of the Charleston Gazette-Mail discovered, each C-USA school had already been seeing less TV and marketing revenue. In the 2011-12 fiscal year, schools generated $13.68 million, but by 2013-14, that number had dwindled to $10.44 million.
As Miner Rush points out, Conference USA’s roster of programs simply isn’t as appealing as it was when its original TV contract was negotiated in 2011. Back then, Houston, Memphis, Tulsa, Central Florida, Tulane and East Carolina were among the schools with quality football and basketball programs that generated high attendance and interest for national TV audiences. Replacing those schools with the likes of Old Dominion, UNC-Charlotte and UTSA has reduced Conference USA’s national appeal, though nearly all of its member programs draw heavy local interest and are in large TV markets.