It’s a great time to lead a major athletic conference in search of a new television contract because broadcast outlets are on a spending spree for “inventory’’ to fill multiple channels.
The expanded Pac-12 Conference just landed a deal for $250 million annually, the highest total ever.
The Atlantic Coast Conference boosted its rights to $155 million annually last year. The Big 12 last month crafted a deal for its secondary rights that increased its yearly total from TV to about $145 million.
You might expect Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany to view such numbers with lonely eyes, since his league has five years to go on a deal that pays $220 million a year.
“We were pretty happy to be at the table when we were,’’ he said this week.
Delany has few worries about negotiating bigger paydays in the future because it appears that new money for college sports won’t dry up any time soon.
Besides ABC, CBS and ESPN, more bidders such as Fox and NBC Comcast are hot for the good-quality yet relatively-lower-cost programming that sports provide.
“That’s the competition for college football today,’’ Delany said. “It has grown in popularity over the past 15 years, in particular the regular-season games. They all matter nationally.’’
Having games that matter for four full months through the season is a function of the Bowl Championship Series being in place, said Delany, a longtime proponent of that system.
“The BCS is successful and controversial,’’ he said. “We couldn’t have envisioned it would have this much impact on the regular season.’’
The BCS isn’t the sole reason football TV rights fees are climbing. Delany said increased competition and technology are key factors, too.
“I will tell you, though, that we have a wonderful postseason tournament in basketball, but we have a regular season which is modest,’’ he said. “In college football, we have 13 or 14 weekends that are pretty compelling.
“So it’s a pretty healthy marketplace. And we’ll have our turn. But we’re pretty happy with what we have.’’
All commissioners, Delany said, are celebrating with the Pac-12, ACC and Big 12 because the recent contracts indicate the marketplace is hot and the interest in growing.
Fifteen years ago, the NFL dwarfed all other athletic enterprises in television rights fees. Delany said the NBA, NHL, MLB, college football and others were “commingled at the bottom.’’
“But what we saw happen in the early ’90s and middle ’90s was an ascent of college football to the point that now it’s separate from the rest,’’ he said. “It’s not what the NFL is, but it’s a very healthy sport.’’
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