Serving as the epicenter for what looked to be the most disruptive force to ever hit college athletics, the Big 12 recently appeared to be on the verge of collapse, as forces from coast to coast threatened to rip the nation’s youngest conference into oblivion.
To the rescue came the almighty dollar, as maligned commissioner Dan Beebe furiously worked the phone lines and back channels to covertly orchestrate a new television deal that is designed to financially invigorate his once-fragile league.
The crux of the deal with Fox Sports Net, which will reportedly assure each Big 12 team at least $14 million, involves revenue generated by television appearances, and it was the guarantee of a higher payout that ultimately lead to the likes of Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M ending their courtships with the Pac-10 and SEC before they could become full-blown marriages.
But an unexpected freedom clause in Beebe’s master restoration plan was an added incentive to lure the conference’s powers back to the table.
Careful to assimilate his conference’s future financial model with the one it enjoys today, which is an unequal revenue sharing plan that creates a rift between the rich and the poor, Beebe surprisingly bestowed permission upon each of the 10 Big 12 teams to pursue its own television network.
It was music to the ears of the Longhorns, who have long been pondering the idea of giving birth to their own network, an enterprise that would generate as much as $5 million in addition to the $20 million Texas is expected to rake in from the new television deal.
Same goes for Oklahoma, another conference giant who was also promised the world by Beebe after nearly bolting for the Pac-10 with Texas and its Big 12 South comrades. As of now, there’s no timeline for an OU network, but athletics director Joe Castiglione said recently the scenario is a possibility , according to the Associated Press.
Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the Sooners recently dumped $3 million into a high-definition video facility on campus, where programming could hypothetically be produced by students. According to Castiglione, the Sooners have also considered teaming with Texas in a joint venture, which could result in the Big 12’s power couple earning somewhere in the neighborhood of a combined $60 million annually in television revenue.
So, that all but covers the richest of the rich. What about the less fortunate, the downtrodden stepchildren of the conference? Beebe agreed to waive his conference’s control over each school’s local media rights with the Longhorns and Sooners in mind, but how realistic is it that other members will be able to take full advantage of the increasingly capitalistic nature of the new Big 12?
With most of the Big 12’s money, not to mention population base, residing in the South Division, the odds seemed stacked against northern teams. But that doesn’t mean teams from the conference’s lesser division can’t strike out on their own in hopes of securing more dollars.
Case in point: The Columbia Daily Tribune reported Friday that officials from Missouri have been meeting to discuss ways in which the athletics department could enhance its delivery of programming to fans.
Among those ideas voiced: The Tiger Sports Network—or MU Sports Network, or Mizzou Television Network, or whatever sounds best—a cable channel devoted to producing MU-related content to Tiger fans 24/7.
For any fan, it’s easy to imagine a one-stop shop for Mizzou sports. Without having to turn the dial, touch a radio, or turn to a broadband connection, MU loyalists could preface a non-conference game in mid-September with a studio-produced pregame show. After the game would be a postgame show, perhaps live from Faurot Field, which would be followed by a live broadcast of women’s volleyball, softball, wrestling, or women’s soccer.
Then the archival footage would kick in after primetime—the re-airing of classic MU moments from the past, up to and including the Tigers’ run at a No. 1-ranking just three years ago.
Sounds ambitious, particularly for a university that despite being a flagship institution, resides in a state populated by only six million people—nearly one-fourth the size of Texas. Then again, MU is sandwiched by two attractive media markets (St. Louis is No. 21; Kansas City is No. 31), so why wouldn’t it work?
Missouri is a powerful brand within its own state and in parts of the immediate region, but the school comes up short in terms of national prestige—a factor that wouldn’t necessarily make or break any chance of an independent network but would hurt when it came to attracting eyeballs outside of the Missouri border.
More than appealing to multi-state audiences, perhaps the more pertinent question would be whether MU fans would pony up the extra money demanded by whichever cable company would be willing to carry the network on its premiere tier of channels.
Currently, the school charges fans $29.95 on a pay-per-view basis to view non-conference games not originally carried by either of its television partners. And the results have been neither flattering nor overly profitable, as Missouri earned only $33,000 after 7,500 purchased a game against Southeast Missouri State in 2008.
Numerically speaking, it seems as if the potential isn’t quite there to warrant a comprehensive network, nor does it seem possible that Missouri would even see gains from such an undertaking, at least at the start.
But, if nothing else, an increased payday in the new Big 12 will allow MU officials to count their chips while details are hashed out, scenarios are weighed, and decisions are made. The Tigers are among those Big 12 teams that will earn anywhere from $14-17 million from the new television deal—considered to be on the lower tier of the conference but nonetheless a significant increase from the more than $10 million MU took in from the 2008 season.
For now, Missouri seems content to attract viewers by fortifying its presence in cyber space, which means expanding the services provided via Mizzou All-Access , an online service that allows fans to view non-revenue sports for less than $10 a month.
Online coverage and pay-per-view dollars seem to be MU’s route for now, but one particular MU official said that all options are being considered to strengthen the school’s media exposure, now and in the future.
Among those options: the Missouri Television Network.
“I would caution from making it sound like that’s absolutely going to happen, but I think we have certain resources and advantages that other schools don’t,” Chad Moller, director of media relations in Missouri’s athletics department, told the Tribune.
“So I’d like to think we can make that happen at some point. Whether it’s five years down the road or longer, I don’t know, of course, but I think it’s a great goal to set out there.”