Fox, ESPN to open talks with Big 12 about conference’s next television deal

The Big 12 plans to engage in discussions with Fox and ESPN about the league’s next television contract, the conference announced Wednesday.

The conference said in a release that it would “be entering into discussions with its multi-media partners to explore an accelerated extension of its current agreements.” Sources had previously told ESPN that the two networks had agreed to the talks.

“It is an exciting time for college athletics and given the changing landscape we welcome the opportunity to engage with our partners to determine if an early extension is in the best interest of all parties,” Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark said in a statement. “The Big 12 has enjoyed a fantastic relationship with its multi-media rights holders, and I look forward to having these conversations.”

The imminent opening of these conversations is significant, as they come more than a year and a half before the league’s television contract calls for a formal, exclusive negotiating window with both current partners. This development allows the Big 12, which has a contract through the 2024 football season, to potentially get tangible future revenue numbers for both its member schools and potential additions.

The conversations could lead to contract negotiations on an extension, which would be a distinct advantage for the Big 12 as it navigates this uncertain moment in college sports.

There is no formal window on these conversations between the Big 12 and ESPN and Fox, which are expected to begin soon. If no deal is reached, the conference can still secure a deal through a more traditional timeline.

For the television networks, the discussions do not affect the formal negotiating window in the contracts. If nothing happens from these conversations, the networks maintain the formal negotiating window in February 2024. This opening of discussions essentially gives Yormark and the conference’s television partners two chances to engage.

“[Yormark] is doing what he should be doing, trying to gain an advantage,” an industry source told ESPN.

If the Big 12’s talks with ESPN and Fox turn into negotiations, it would likely be for a short-term extension that gives the league clarity after the current deal expires following the 2024-25 academic year.

The willingness of the Big 12’s television partners to come to the table could mitigate one big advantage the Pac-12 has in the conference television landscape. At Pac-12 media days, commissioner George Kliavkoff said the league was in “the enviable position of being next to market” after the Big Ten.

The Pac-12 has two years remaining on its television contract, and the league announced in July that its board of directors had authorized the conference to begin negotiations for its next media rights agreement. It’s unclear how much that has helped the Pac-12.

Before the Big 12 planning talks, the Pac-12’s advantage in the television landscape had been that the conference could give tangible numbers to its member schools and any potential additions. With the Big 12 having three years remaining on its deal, the prevailing thought had been that the conference could give only projected numbers, which would present a risk for any school considering joining the league.

The Big 12 and Pac-12 have been attempting to find an edge after taking significant member losses in the past year.

Last summer, the Big 12 lost Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC, a move that is scheduled to happen in 2025. This summer, the Pac-12 lost USC and UCLA to the Big Ten, which is scheduled for 2024. The losses have left the leagues attempting to cast new identities, with the Big 12 adding UCF, BYU, Cincinnati and Houston.

Yormark’s comments about the Big 12 being “open for business” at media days were received coldly by Kliavkoff. At Pac-12 media days, Kliavkoff fired back: “With respect to the Big 12 being open for business, I appreciate that. We haven’t decided if we’re going shopping there or not yet.”

Yormark later expanded on his “open for business” comments, telling the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: “It means that this conference is no longer going to be stagnant. We’re going to be very proactive. We’re going to explore and identify any and all opportunities that create value in every respect. Is expansion a part of ‘open for business’? A hundred percent. But it’s only a small piece.”