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CFP Considers Super Bowl-Like Rotation For National Championship Game

  • College football’s title game could rotate among multiple media partners annually, sources told Front Office Sports.
  • ESPN’s contract, which includes exclusive rights to the National Championship, expires after the 2025 season.
The College Football Playoff is considering rotating TV networks for the national championship game.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The College Football Playoff (CFP) may take a page out of the NFL for its National Championship game.

For its next long-term cycle of media rights, the CFP wants to sign multiple network TV partners. Similar to the Super Bowl, the CFP is considering a structure that would rotate the title game among those media partners on an annual basis, sources told Front Office Sports. 

The goal: maximize rights fees and cross promotion for college football’s National Championship, which draws far smaller TV viewership than the Super Bowl. 

ESPN is on the tail end of a 12-year, $5.64 billion rights deal that pays the CFP an estimated $470 million a year. But ESPN’s contract, which includes exclusive rights to the National Championship, expires after the 2025 season.

Virtually every major media player has expressed interest in the rights to the future 12-team playoff. The CFP has begun preliminary discussions about rights starting with the 2026 season. The contenders range from ESPN, Fox Sports, NBC Sports and Warner Bros. Discovery Sports to giant streamers Amazon Prime Video and Apple, as FOS has previously reported.

The structure of the deal has not been agreed upon yet, however.

The NFL currently rotates Super Bowl broadcast rights among long-term TV partners CBS (which will air Super Bowl 58 from Las Vegas on Feb. 11), NBC and Fox. The Walt Disney Co.’s ABC/ESPN will join the Super Bowl rotation after the 2026 and 2030 seasons.

Using multiple partners to boost overall rights fees is the classic NFL strategy, which has been copied by competitors like NASCAR and the NHL. 

NASCAR just announced seven-year deals worth $7.7 billion that brought in new partners like Amazon and WBD Sports alongside incumbents NBC and Fox. Previously, the Big Ten announced a seven-year, $8 billion deal to spread its games across Fox, NBC and CBS through 2029. 

Despite ESPN’s creative use of “MegaCasts,” the National Championship Game needs a shot in the arm ratings-wise.

ESPN’s telecast of Georgia’s 65-7 blowout win over TCU this year averaged 17.2 million viewers — the least-watched National Championship since the dawn of the BCS/CFP era in 1999, according to Sports Media Watch

Those numbers less than the 18 million average viewers for NFL regular season games this year through Week 12. They are just half of the 35.6 million viewers for the 2006 USC vs. Texas Rose Bowl, and not even in the same ballpark as the record 115.1 million viewers for Fox’s telecast of the Kansas City Chiefs vs. Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl 57. Still, it’s a tentpole property that attracts dozens of sponsors and upwards of $60 million in ad revenue.

ESPN and Fox — the ruling duopoly of college football TV — have already made presentations to the CFP.

But the opportunity for broadcast rivals like Fox or NBC to snatch rights away from ESPN will only add more spice to the bidding.

ESPN might be willing to give up part of the CFP to pay for other expensive rights like the NBA, sources said.

Cost-cutting Disney is no longer okay with ESPN simply outbidding rivals for marquee rights. Under chairman Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN has become more disciplined and picky: ESPN walked away from expensive Big Ten rights — despite a 40-year relationship with the conference.

Back in 2022, Pitaro told Bloomberg he’s “willing to be flexible” about sharing TV rights with other networks for the expanded CFP.

ESPN is set to televise this season’s National Championship game from Houston on Jan. 8, 2024.

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