Perhaps it’s a sign of the times where networks are looking to cut costs where they can, or maybe it’s the fact that Conference USA doesn’t have the marquee schools that it did when it signed it’s last media rights deal, but as Sports Business Journal reports, the league will be lower payments from CBS and ESPN when a new contract is signed. A deal hasn’t announced as of yet, but is expected soon. The conference which had seen $7 million annual from its network partners will see significantly less revenue in the new contract, an estimated $1 million per year which will be a hit for school athletic departments.
Fox which had been part of a C-USA triumvirate with CBS and ESPN will not be part of the new contract according to SBJ. As the conference lost Central Florida, Houston and Memphis and replaced them with Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky, the league became less attractive for television. And with Fox opting out of the new rights deal, it means the member schools with see less money.
Does this mean a sign of things to come for sports rights? Maybe not, but with C-USA seeing schools in smaller markets than in years past, it pays the price in the short-term. In addition, with the networks locked into expensive long-term deals with the major sports leagues like MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL, some of the smaller properties are seeing lower deals as ESPN and Fox which were once in an arms race, are now cutting back on spending.
But with Conference USA seeing lower rights fees and other smaller conferences perhaps seeing them as well, the big spending days by the networks may be over. And if that’s the case, the smaller conferences may have to be creative in finding new revenues to make up for the lost media rights fees.