The Mountain West Conference’s schools appear set to get a lot more in rights fees. Sports Business Journal‘s John Ourand reported Monday that Fox “has reached an agreement with the Mountain West to carry a package of the conference’s football and basketball games that formerly was held by ESPN,” and that CBS Sports Network has also renewed its package of games. Those deals are set to go into effect July 1. Here’s more from Ourand on those deals and the revenue they could bring to the MWC schools:
My colleague Michael Smith and I are told that the Fox and CBS deals combined will be worth about $35 million annually — around $20 million from CBS and $15 million from Fox. The length of the deals is not clear yet, but MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson has said that he wanted shorter terms than the 10-year deals the MWC had previously. The games in the Fox package are expected to run primarily on FS1.
The new Fox and CBS contracts, which will go into effect July 1, provide the conference’s 10 schools — not including Hawaii and Boise State, which have separate arrangements — with a significant revenue lift. Under the old contracts, those 10 schools made $1.1 million per year, per school. That per-school figure should jump to about $3 million or more.
Hawaii is a football-only member of the MWC, so that’s why their deal is separate. As per Boise State, they have special privileges (including some home football games sold separately) relative to Mountain West schools as part of the Broncos’ return to the conference. They first joined the Mountain West in 2011, but December 2011 saw the announcement that they were going to head to the Big East for football in 2013 while putting their other sports in their former home of the Western Athletic Conference. However, amidst Big East instability in 2012 and with changes in the BCS structure to award a berth to the highest Group of Five school, the Broncos opted to return to the Mountain West (before they even actually went through with leaving). San Diego State returned as well, but the Aztecs weren’t able to negotiate a bonus the way Boise State was. Meanwhile, the Big East wound up splitting, with the football schools forming the American Athletic Conference and the basketball-only schools keeping the Big East name.
It’s certainly notable to see the non-Boise State schools making much more than they were before under this new deal (with the Broncos reportedly set to benefit as well with a continued premium), and it’s interesting to see the non-CBSSN rights shifting from ESPN to Fox. Fox doesn’t have as much channel inventory as ESPN (not counting FS2, which has such poor carriage that conferences have successfully lobbied to have even overruns and delays use Fox Business instead), and they already have deals with the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 (which all include FS1 games). They’re also rumored to so we’ll see just how much they feature the MWC.
And that’s also significant with the other partner here being CBS Sports Network, which also has just one linear cable channel. CBS’ new UEFA Champions League deal seems likely to put some games on over-the-top streaming platform CBS All-Access, and it seems possible some Mountain West content could wind up there as well. But that hasn’t been reported yet. It’s also possible that the conference can strike a different deal with ESPN+ or another streaming provider for content that CBS and Fox don’t want to air.
The conference has pushed back on this a bit, claiming that nothing is final yet. Here’s their statement, as relayed by Mark Ziegler of The San Diego Union-Tribune:
League sources said negotiations on several pieces of the deal are continuing and won’t be completed for another month, meaning the dollar amount is not finalized.
“The story is inaccurate as reported,” a Mountain West statement said. “No deal has been signed by any party, and negotiations are ongoing.”
And Ziegler’s piece notes some of the other things that could come out of this, such as midweek football games on FS1 (to avoid conflicts with the bigger conference games FS1 has Friday night and Saturday. As he mentions, the conference had previously mulled going with a streaming-only deal that would give them more flexibility in scheduling games at desirable times for fans attending in person. But that kind of deal likely would have come without anywhere near this level of per-school payout. So if this winds up coming together the way SBJ has reported, it looks like the Mountain West will have gained a nice jump in per-school revenue, but not an improvement in kickoff times.