We've entered a brave new world in college athletics. News that Texas struck its own television network deal with ESPN worth up to $300 million signaled as much.
In light of that agreement, one industry leader who helps universities assess the worth of their marketing and media rights is skeptical the Big 12 Conference, in its current form, will survive another five years.
“I hate to be negative, but it's going to be really hard to have a marriage in a conference with the advantages Texas has,” says A.J. Maestas, president of Navigate Marketing, which works with the NFL, ESPN and several colleges like Ohio State. “It's going to be really hard for the K-States and Iowa States of the world to be competitive.”
Think of it as a battle of inequity. The Nav'i firing spears at the Sky People's gunships. Sooner or later, the Big 12's members will retreat to fairer playing fields.
Yet assuming the Big 12 crumbles, Oklahoma's prognosis is sunny, Maestas says, thanks to the school's capability for, and progress on, its own television network.
But the benefits are far greater than money.
Texas claims it will make a staggering $15 million a year off its ESPN deal (though a few million less at the outset as UT attempts to build its network from the ground up).
“Oklahoma would be fortunate to get half of that, and a third is probably more reasonable. That's not a knock on Oklahoma's fan base, that's just the economic reality of the population base,” said Maestas, adding that even those financial returns wouldn't come the first few years.
“What does $5 million do nowadays in college sports? Is it an advantage? Yes. Is it a massive advantage? No.”
The true advantage of having a personal network, however, isn't near-term economics, Maestas says. The true advantage lies in the branding, recruiting, exposure and expansion of the Sooner footprint beyond state lines that will make OU all the more attractive to other conferences when the inevitable wave of conference realignment strikes again.
“The personal network is more about branding, recruiting, exposure than the revenue,” Maestas said. “Oklahoma seems to understand this.”
An OU network inside Oklahoma would have its payoff. But Oklahoma has limited TV sets. And the Sooners have the state's eyeballs on them already. Which is why maximizing the channel's full potential hinges on whether OU can somehow get the channel up and running on cable packages outside the state.
“The key is expanding the geographic influence,” Maestas said. “If they're smart, they'll charge small amounts of money to have it on the basic tier in other states.”
Remember how WGN led to the proliferation of Cubs fans around the country? Imagine an OU network achieving similar results on a smaller scale from Kansas City down to the Metroplex.
“In five years, you could see Oklahoma become more of a regional school,” Maestas said. “Get decent ratings from Kansas City to Dallas. ... show you have a proven viewing subscriber base. ... you'd be bringing a whole lot to the table to other conferences.”