Editor’s Note: This article has been updated as of September 1 to include the recent events of the Pac-12’s disintegration and the ACC expansion. In addition, the ACC graph has been updated to include the new $72 million a year in revenue, a new table has been provided for a quick jump to each conference, and a new graph has been inserted to summarize current TV payouts.
In the world of realignment, the number one factor behind all the change is money. Specifically, we are talking about the amount of money conferences make from TV rights, which are referred to as media rights, TV rights, media deals, broadcast rights, etc. These media deals have been an important part of college athletics even before the 1980s when the Supreme Court ruled against the NCAA in a landmark case and it’s a topic we’ve covered before.
We’d be remiss to not mention that massive TV rights are not unique to college athletics. Every major sport has a massive TV deal with some much more sought-after than others. Outside of sports, there are television shows that are syndicated for reruns although they rarely reach the same type of numbers. It took Seinfeld 15 years to reach $3.1 billion for reruns, which is the highest syndicated show in history. The Big Ten’s latest TV deal will pay more than twice that amount in less than half the time ($7 billion over 7 years).
We bring this topic back to the forefront because the NFL sold the very lucrative Sunday Ticket package to YouTube for $2 billion a year for 7 years. That was the final piece of the NFL media deals following the $10 billion per year they will receive from Amazon, CBS, ESPN (ABC), Fox, and NBC through 2033. There’s nothing quite like the appetite for live sports and the NFL is king. However, one negative of this is that cable TV continues to get more expensive, and online streaming options aren’t far behind. Just a few months after acquiring the NFL Sunday Ticket rights, YouTube TV announced it would increase the cost of its service by 12%. This is hardly a surprise to anyone and it wouldn’t be shocking to see another increase or two over the next few years to help offset the cost of acquiring the NFL rights.
All of this makes us wonder… with all the recent deals college football has seen for TV rights, how much further can they continue to climb? Let’s go back to 1984, work our way through the media deals since then, and include some contemporary issues that could help shed light on an answer. The table below will help navigate to a specific conference.
|ACC||Updated Contract in effect starting with 2024-25 Season|
|Big 12||New Contract in effect starting with 2025-26 Season|
|Big Ten||New Contract in effect starting with 2025-26 Season|
|College Football Association*||No Longer Exists|
|Notre Dame||Current Contract runs through the 2025 season|
|Pac-12*||Pac-12 is falling apart|
|SEC||New Contract in effect starting with 2024-25 Season|
|College Football Playoff*||New Contract begins with 2024 Season. Any numbers are strictly estimates|
|Summary Graph||Values of each Conference plus Notre Dame and the CFP|
1984: The NCAA’s Dystopian Nightmare
Prior to 1984, the NCAA limited the number of games shown on television claiming that doing so allowed them to maximize revenues for in-person attendance and that increasing the number of games on television would cause revenue to decline. Unsurprisingly, this practice was not particularly well-received by some athletic departments. While Oklahoma was the lead plaintiff in the case known as the NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, the University of Georgia Athletic Association was no less a party to the lawsuit. The Supreme Court ruled against the NCAA claiming the organization violated the Sherman and Clayton Antitrust Acts due to restraint of trade. While that’s the abridged version, let’s provide some facts on whether the NCAA has been proven correct or wrong.
In 1983, FBS attendance was 25.3 million. Since then, that number has never dropped below 25 million in a season excluding the 2020 season impacted by the pandemic when attendance was virtually non-existent or extremely limited. It becomes even more difficult to say that TV exposure has hurt the game when we consider that nearly FBS game is on television or a streaming platform but attendance was almost 37.5 million (41,840 fans per game in 2023 multiplied by the 896 FBS games in 2022). While there are more FBS teams and games than ever before, if anything, television has helped the sport grow to the point where the increase in the number of FBS teams (and thus games) became a virtuous circle.
One area the NCAA was proven correct on initially was that the television revenues would be hurt. This result is not surprising because a relatively new market (college sports on television) was flooded with a massive supply of games and only a few networks to show those games. That played right into the networks’ hands because they could choose whichever game(s) they wanted without having to break the bank. However, this wouldn’t last forever as the sport’s popularity grew and it didn’t take long for schools to come together to market college football to the networks with the live sports that have become highly sought after today.
The College Football Association
The College Football Association was formed in 1977 as a way to negotiate TV contracts for a majority of the top football programs – except for the Big Ten and the Pac-10 (now Pac-12). In 1981, the NCAA announced a new TV deal with ABC and CBS for $263.5 million. Not to be outdone, the CFA negotiated a TV deal with NBC on behalf of 61 college football teams worth $180 million, which would have paid each team $1 million a year and guaranteed two TV appearances. The deal fell apart because some programs were not fully committed and others worried that the NCAA would expel members for participating in the CFA-NBC contract.
The NCAA’s expulsion threat is what ultimately led to the 1984 Regents case outlined above but the CFA would last another decade before it too fell victim to college athletics’ insatiable desire for more money. 1984 was the year ABC acquired ESPN from Texaco (yes, the oil company) for $188 million in a deal that would help shape the college football landscape as we know it today. In 1984, the CFA negotiated multiple deals with ABC, ESPN, and TBS worth $21.2 million. That same year, the non-CFA conferences of the Pac-10 and Big Ten were shown on CBS for $8 million. That one-year deal was followed up with a two-year deal in 1985 worth $24 million from ESPN and another $31 million from ABC. Missing from the 1985-86 CFA deal was the ACC (plus Army, Miami, and Navy), which didn’t like the lack of air time so they went over to CBS alongside the Big Ten and Pac-10 for $3.5 million.
In 1987, CBS took over the rights to at least 15 CFA games for $60 million. ESPN also had a deal with the CFA worth $70 million from 1987 through 1990. The money didn’t stop there because, in 1991, the CFA signed two deals: one with ABC through 1995 worth $210 million and another with ESPN through the 1994 season worth $110 million. 1991 was also a seminal moment for the CFA when Notre Dame decided it wanted its own slice. The Irish left the CFA and went to NBC in a 5-year deal worth $38 million that ultimately led to a revised deal worth $185 million.
Between the ACC and Notre Dame departures, the cracks were beginning to show for the CFA in an all too familiar echo to the current day. Schools wanted more exposure and more money for their main product: football. This reasoning is all too prevalent in today’s realignment shuffle whether it’s Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC or UCLA and USC to the Big Ten as the major programs feel there’s more money to be made elsewhere. Below is a table showing the TV rights deals from 1984 through 1995 when the CFA began to fall apart.
Notre Dame's NBC Exclusivity Deals
Let's go back to 1991 when Notre Dame decided it wanted its own slice of TV revenue. The Fighting Irish were only three years removed from a 12-0 National Championship season in 1988 and the following two seasons saw them finish 12-1 (#2 behind the Miami Hurricanes) and 9-3 (finished sixth in the nation). Love them or hate them, the Irish brand was just as strong as any team and they continued to have success with a 10-3 finish in 1991, a 10-1-1 record in 1992, and a #2 finish in 1993 with an 11-1 record.
When the next two contracts came up in 1996 and 2001, Notre Dame wasn't contending for the National Championship on a yearly basis but the program still produced some solid teams (9-3 twice under Bob Davie including in 2000 in the "contract" year). The 1996 - 2000 contract went for $38 million while the 2001 - 2005 went for a slight bump to $45 million. The rather modest bump in annual payment - a $1.4 million increase - reflects the more modest results.
Notre Dame continues to be a brand that NBC likes. The last two contracts (2011 through 2015 and 2016 through 2025) went for $15 million per year but it appears the latter contract included some escalators. The deal was originally reported to be $15 million per year but more recent reports put the annual payout from NBC in the $25 million range. In any case, the Irish are expected to command a gigantic increase in the next contract ranging from $50 million to $100 million a year in some scenarios. The Irish are a sought-after commodity, especially after the football team re-emerged as national title contenders for many years under Brian Kelly.
Notre Dame helped paved the way for some other ideas that will be discussed throughout the article including the idea of its very own network. While NBC hasn't committed to showing Notre Dame football 24 hours a day, it's not hard to see how the Big Ten Network or SEC Network expanded upon the foundation of its own branded network. Of course, there was the Longhorn Network dedicated solely to Texas athletics, which ended up being part of the reason for the Big 12's realignment changes in the early 2000s. More on the Big 12 later.
Below is a table showing the contracts for Notre Dame since they went to the NBC exclusive home game route in 1991. Please note, the contract from 2016 through 2025 is an estimate of $20 million per year. The deal was originally reported to be $15 million per year and is now closer to $25 million per year. We did a simple average of those two amounts per year.
Mid-1990s: SEC to CBS Sets the Stage for the Future
In 1996, the SEC moved to CBS with a 5-year deal worth $85 million along with an additional $30 million from ESPN. While the CFA's offer would have given the SEC more money, the conference yearned for something else far more valuable: exposure on an over-the-air channel. The deal made CBS the national television network home for the SEC's college sports, which is an early, ironic twist given the SEC has its own cable network now. At the time, this was a huge move because it showed other schools and conferences that there was room for increased rights fees in college football (as did the Notre Dame to NBC move).
The SEC followed that up with another deal with CBS and ESPN worth about $50 million per year from 2001 through 2008. The numbers have only grown since then as the SEC and ESPN agreed to a 15-year deal worth $2.25 billion beginning in 2009. Three years later, the SEC added new members in Missouri and Texas A&M to help build its brand further. In 2014, the SEC Network launched in partnership with ESPN for a 20-year deal that runs through 2034. The numbers get even dizzier when you consider that ESPN will take over CBS' SEC football deal in 2024 by paying the SEC $3 billion over 10 years. That puts the SEC collecting a minimum of $5.25 billion starting in 2024 while it could be as high as $7 billion with the addition of Oklahoma and Texas the same year.
During the last three decades, the SEC has benefited from other aspects outside of TV revenues. For starters, the football side has become the best conference in college football, much to the chagrin of every other conference. Since the BCS era began in 1998, the SEC has won 15 of the 25 BCS/CFB National Championships. On top of that, the demographics of the United States have changed with a huge influx of people to the Southeast. The region has grown faster than the US as a whole with a 45% growth in population since 1990. A popular sport, with a growing population, and a clear dominance at the top level is another example of a virtuous circle.
As we've seen with the SEC's growth, the money has become staggering as we went from a $23 million spread across 12 teams to billions for one conference that currently has 14 members and will soon become 16 with Oklahoma and Texas joining in 2024. The growth is only equaled by the Big Ten, which has kept pace with the SEC while the other major conferences have fallen behind. It's clear in college football that a two-horse race has emerged in terms of revenue. Below is a table showing the SEC's revenue growth since 1996 when it went to CBS and also includes the future contract starting in 2024 when it becomes exclusive to the ABC/ESPN/SEC Network.
Big Ten Strikes Back With its Own Network
While the SEC was making moves to have an already established national network help provide exposure, the Big Ten ended up getting creative and striking a new path toward higher TV revenues. After the CFA expired in 1995, the Big Ten opted for the cable route and committed itself to ESPN for 10 years, which provided them $100 million across a decade. Things changed in 2007 when they split the package between ESPN and Fox for another 10 years but this time it was worth $1 billion from ESPN and $1.5 billion from Fox. There was also this small detail in the Fox deal in which the Big Ten launched its very own network called the Big Ten Network. At the time, no other conference had done something like this but it worked out well for the conference because it will bring in nearly $3 billion over the original 20-year agreement with Fox. It was a visionary move by the Big Ten and one that was copied by every other conference as a way to generate additional TV revenue.
Another shrewd move by former commissioner Jim Delaney was to decrease the length of the next TV deal beginning in 2017. Delaney wanted to shorten it as a way to get ahead of the other conferences. The Big Ten signed a 6-year deal worth $2.6 billion through 2022 making the average yearly payout $430 million. That, in turn, led us to the current, mammoth deal beginning in 2023 and running through the 2029-30 academic year. The Big Ten will receive roughly $1.15 billion a year through the end of the current decade in the current TV deal as they left ESPN behind for CBS, Fox, and NBC. This contract will also be complete before the SEC's next deal is up in 2034 meaning a chance to get higher payouts for four years before the SEC's next contract kicks in. Below is a table showing how the Big Ten contracts have evolved since 1996.
The Pac-10 Becomes 12 as the Conference Falls Behind Peers... Then Falls Apart
The Pac-10's history of conference deals is interesting in hindsight. ABC held the rights to the Pac-10 and Big Ten games after the CFA ended and through the 2000 season but at some point, Fox Sports Net grabbed secondary-tier games from the Pac-10. The conference actually had a better deal with ABC, ESPN, and Fox Sports Net making $32.2 million a year from 1997 through 2006. It is believed that the Pac-10 was receiving about $19 million a year before the ABC/ESPN/FSN deal.
The next contract is where the Pac-10 would begin to lose ground. While the Big Ten was making $250 million a year, the Pac-10 opted for a 5-year deal from 2007 through 2011 for $300 million ($60 million a year). The shorter term helped the newly named Pac-12 following the additions of Colorado and Utah sign the richest contract at the time. Starting with the 2012 season, the Pac-12 would receive $3 billion over 12 years ($250 million per year) from ESPN and Fox. That amount was on par with the Big Ten and ahead of the SEC but that wouldn't last long.
As part of the deal, the Pac-12 would also start its own network (the Pac-12 Network) but it has been plagued by high costs and numerous carriage issues with DirecTV. What ultimately hurt the Pac-12 was former Commissioner Larry Scott continued to pour good money after bad as costs increased, which ultimately eroded the perception of the conference at a national level (if not also causing UCLA and USC to bolt for the Big Ten). As of now, the Pac-12 remains without its next television rights deal. It took months for them to begin putting a framework together amid the constant rumors of additional membership departures.
Below is a table showing how the Pac-12 TV contracts have changed since 1997 and the article/table will be updated should a contract be signed. As of early August 2023, the Pac-12's fate beyond the 2023-24 academic year is highly uncertain following the departure of Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon, Utah, and Washington over an eight-day span. The Pac-12 took another hit when California and Stanford left for the ACC on September 1, 2023. Only Oregon State and Washington State remain in the Pac-12 in a stunning fall for one of the premier conferences in college athletics.
The Big 12: A Resilient Conference
The final two Power 5 conferences that will be discussed have the most confusing history of TV contracts. Multiple contracts that overlap over many years made it more difficult to parse but the Big 12 has undergone a lot of membership changes during that time as well. In 1996, the Big 12 had two contracts: an 8-year contract through 2003 with ABC for a total of $122.7 million and also had a five-year deal with Fox Sports through 2000 for $42.5 million.
There was also reportedly a 10-year deal with Fox for $156 million but the start and end of the contract are unclear and do not match up with the Sports Illustrated reporting. What does make sense is if the 10-year contract started in 2001, which would line up with the reported per-school average of $7 million to $10 million. This would also be the last contract before Colorado went to the Pac-12, Nebraska left for the Big Ten, and Missouri and Texas A&M joined the SEC. The Big 12 then backfilled with TCU and West Virginia to sit at 10 teams.
Information on the ABC/ESPN contract after the original 8-year deal that expired in 2003 was extremely sparse so we decided to use the same amount ($15.38 million per year) for the years of 2004 through 2007. The next known ESPN deal started in 2008 and was originally slated to bring in a total of $480 million through the 2015-16 academic year. This was later superseded when Fox and ESPN gave a combined $2.6 billion to the Big 12 for its rights through 2024.
The Big 12's next contract starts in 2025 and pays a higher per-year amount. ESPN and Fox will pay the Big 12 $2.3 billion over 6 years for an average of $383 million per year. This contract is rather impressive given the loss of big brands like Oklahoma and Texas in 2024 to the SEC but that was offset by the additions of BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati, and Houston. We did say the Big 12 was resilient and they acted very quickly to replace the losses of OU and UT to the SEC. Below is a table for the Big 12 TV contracts since 1996. As a recap, the first decade is a rough estimation based on the various reporting sources above. The numbers through 2007 should be taken with a grain of salt because we were unable to find a reference to the ABC/ESPN contract from 2004 through 2007.
The ACC Finds Out That Long-Term Stability Has Its Price
The ACC began the post-CFA era with a 5-year, $80 million deal with ABC, ESPN, and Jefferson Pilot from 1996 through 2000. This contract was improved slightly from 2001 through 2003 when the conference received $70 million over three years from the same networks. The original deal would have been for five years but the ACC's expansion helped bring on the Big East's demise in football as they brought Miami and Virginia Tech into the fold beginning with the 2004 season, which led to a shortening of the contract. A new contract would run from 2004 through 2010 for a total of $258 million and Boston College would join the ACC in 2005.
The following contract to start in 2011 would be full of twists and turns. Originally, the deal was worth $1.86 billion over 12 years and would include both football and basketball. That contract lasted all of one season with the ACC and ESPN restructuring the deal in 2012 to run for 15 years through 2026-27 at a total payout of $3.6 billion. Except there was more realignment that would see the ACC bring Pittsburgh and Syracuse along with Notre Dame for everything but football beginning with the 2013 season. In 2014, Louisville joined while Maryland departed for the Big Ten. The deal was restructured a second time in 2013 with the ACC receiving $4.2 billion ($300 million a year) through the 2026-27 season.
The ACC and ESPN were having so much fun with changing the deal, they amended it a third time in July 2016. The two parties agreed to a 20-year deal through 2036 worth $6 billion ($300 million per year) that included two important elements. The first was the launch of the ACC Network, which was somehow plagued with more problems than the Pac-12's launch. The ACC Network launched in August 2019 but a 2+ year dispute with Comcast made a number of customers unable to watch the ACCN without having to subscribe to an additional streaming platform.
The second important element was the 20-year Grant of Rights, which has become a hot-button issue. It was a well-intended idea to keep all the teams together and bring stability during times of turbulent realignment. The big problem? Pairing the 20-year GoR with the TV contract is really what's causing the discontent. The ACC will receive $300 million per year until 2036 but the Big 12 will receive $383 million a year and its agreement ends in 2030 meaning the next contract could be even higher. The Big Ten and SEC are already light years ahead of the ACC bringing in 2 to 3 times as much revenue compared to the ACC. It's understandable that the ACC schools are angry because they are about to fall even further behind while they're stuck in a seemingly unbreakable contract.
All the ACC TV contracts are listed below. We've included all of the restructured contracts individually in the table below even though the contracts beginning in 2013 and 2016 are worth the same amount per year. We felt the GoR stipulation in the 2016 contract was worth breaking out on its own for further discussion. Of course, it didn't end there because in September 2023, the ACC voted to expand membership to include California, SMU, and Stanford beginning with the 2024-25 academic year. The ACC's contract with ESPN stipulates that each Tier 1 member that joins the league will result in a $24 million bump to the TV revenue. In this case, an additional $72 million per year will be sent to the ACC although the newest members are on extreme pro-rata shares with 30% going to Cal and Stanford and SMU taking no TV revenue dollars for as many as 9 years.
A Confluence of Events
While money is the primary driving force for realignment, there are a few other factors at play when it comes to realignment and TV contracts. How we watch television is the biggest change over the last three decades of realignment. The idea of streaming was probably not even thought about in 1996 but the times have changed. In 2013, about 100 million US households subscribed to some type of traditional, paid TV package. That number is projected to be only 60 million by the end of 2023 - a 40% drop in a decade.
The rise of streaming services is the clear driver behind cable's decline in the last 30 years but we cannot ignore how we consume that content. It's easier than ever to watch television on your phone or boot up your Apple TV or Roku device and start watching your favorite show - without the need for a cable package. However, streaming options are not without flaws especially when it comes to the cost. Due to the fragmentation in the streaming world, it's not unheard of to need multiple streaming services to watch all the games of your favorite team.
This is where the viewer begins to lose and where college football needs to be particularly careful. Unlike the NFL, which negotiates all the broadcast rights on behalf of the 32 teams, college football is fragmented into conferences that have their own agendas. The problem is that once fans start to pay for 3 or 4 different streaming services to watch 12 to 15 games, the sport will begin to lose fans. Fewer fans mean fewer eyeballs for advertisers, which means fewer dollars going back to the networks that shelled out beaucoup bucks for these TV rights. How long will the contracts keep going up in that scenario?
To be clear, we're not predicting this is what will happen but we do offer it as a cautionary tale because some viewers will be priced out. It also should be noted that a conference's games on multiple platforms aren't bad because then the product can pick up more potential viewers. However, too many platforms combined with the barrage of advertising and the recent implementation of new clock rules, and there's a chance the sport could see a loss in viewership. Of course, there's also the chance the new rules bring back some disinterested fans who didn't want to sit through 3.5+ hours of a game filled with commercials.
As much as realignment is intertwined with broadcast rights the nature of college athletics has changed as well. College athletes can now be compensated for their name, image, and likeness, which gives college sports a pay-for-play feel that was never present before. There's also the ongoing push to classify athletes as employees, which means unionization similar to that seen in professional sports. As schools and conferences see the changes on the horizon, they see increasing costs as well to ensure compliance or, at the very least, nothing illegal. What better way to offset the increased costs than to find a partner who increases your revenue.
The College Football Playoff
There's one contract we haven't mentioned yet and it's a big one: the College Football Playoff. Under the first contract with ESPN through the 2025 season, the CFP brings in about $470 million a year. In 2019-20, the Power 5 conferences received $67 million each from the CFP while the Group of 5 split a total pot of $92 million. How does that stack up to the BCS era? Quite well as most people probably expected.
The first BCS contract covered the 1998 season through the 2005 season with all the games being shown on ABC. That contract brought in $550 million over 8 years followed by a move to Fox for the 2006 through 2009 seasons (the Rose Bowl was still shown on ABC due to an already existing contract). The Fox contract wound up being slightly better at $320 million over 4 years. The last four years of the BCS were moved to ESPN with the Worldwide Leader dishing out $500 million over the 2010 through 2013 seasons. Below is a table showing all the TV contracts since the start of the BCS in 1998.
The next contract is going to be a whole lot bigger after it was decided to expand the College Football Playoff from 4 teams to 12 beginning in 2024. The new deal won't go into effect until the 2026 season and there's the possibility ESPN could end the deal early to try and capture the expanded playoff rights. Once the 12-team playoff begins, it is expected to bring around $2 billion a year for the TV rights. That would be more than double the annual amount March Madness brought in and we know how insanely popular that tournament is. The College Football Playoffs typically produce the highest viewership of the season so there's also that factor to consider.
While the expansion of the CFP is great for the conferences, some are left wondering whether that will ultimately dilute the regular season. In theory, regular season games will have less meaning especially if both teams are likely to make the playoffs with 6 at-large bids. For example, if Michigan and Ohio State enter The Game both sitting at 11-0, it's hard to envision a scenario in which both teams miss a 12-team playoff, thus rendering the game meaningless in the eyes of some fans.
In a way, that's correct. In the grand scheme, it doesn't change the fact that both teams would be in but it would drastically alter the seedings. The loser wouldn't play for Big Title or secure a first-round bye. Imagine if the Kick Six game happened in the 12-team CFP era. People don't think Auburn fans would be incessant on social media letting Alabama fans hear it for a month (if not years) that they were a top 4 team while Alabama had to play an extra game to make the Quarterfinals? Or just the simple fact that Auburn beat Alabama and stopped an undefeated season? Rivalries in college football are fierce like very few others in the sporting world and bragging rights are a huge reason for its passion.
We'll go back to the NFL as an analogy. When they added a 17th game, did that change the interest in the NFL? Has the 17th game made the regular season or playoffs less meaningful? Are the regular season and playoffs now diluted with 17 regular season games AND an expanded 14-team playoff? The recent TV contracts say no and that the NFL is the gold standard.
We didn't compare college football and the NFL spuriously. The first reason we compared them is that the NFL actually had a decline in viewership for the 2022 season, which is attributed to Amazon taking over the Thursday Night Football games in a streaming-only format. That's a lesson college football would be wise to remember in the future as they negotiate the broadcast rights. Secondly, as college football has become more and more commercialized, it begins to feel like the NFL-lite. College football has to clear some major hurdles (labor laws, NIL, NCAA/D1 Transformation) before it gets to that point but recent changes make the sport feel different than ever before. While they'll never be exactly like the NFL, the clear increased commercialization of college football in the last 15 years has been NFL-like.
If the CFP begins to draw higher rights fees as expected, the money aspect begins to really drive realignment. If two conferences are receiving a majority of the playoff berths, why wouldn't schools want to join that conference? More bids will mean more money. This scenario can be mitigated if the Power 5 conferences agree to revenue sharing as it is now but how long will that last? If the Big Ten and SEC account for six or seven of the 12 playoff bids each year, why would they continue to agree to receive a combined 40% of the revenue? Then we start the whole realignment and possible breakaway scenario. This kind of snowball effect could go on and it's not hard to envision college football drastically altering simply because of conferences and schools chasing money.
How Much Higher Can TV Contracts Go?
College football TV contracts can continue to climb higher as long as the appetite for live sports remains high, which it is based on almost every media deal reported in the past few years. In college athletics, there's the unique aspect of conferences negotiating the broadcast rights individually instead of the NCAA doing so collectively. The inherent flaw is that teams will always want what's best for them (i.e. more money) and if the current conference isn't giving them the opportunity, they'll move on. When they do, it begins the cycle of the next TV contract and realignment moves. As a reminder, here are the TV contract values on an annual basis by conference, including the College Football Playoff.
While the next one or two college football TV contract cycles point towards higher fees, it feels like there's a breaking point because there are only so many live sporting events to go around. College football conferences will have to compete with not just each other and other college sports, but also other sports like the NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS, and NFL. As long as college football continues to maintain an edge in viewership over other sports - combined with the effective methods of distributing the sport - it can continue to see higher fees. The only thing standing in the way of higher fees is itself because the nature of college athletics and realignment is always evolving.
Photo courtesy of Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP