Tuesday October 3, 2023

Expanded CFP Could Fetch $2.2B In Annual Media Rights Fees

  • The expanded playoff could more than double current media rights fees.
  • Look for a Fox vs. ESPN bidding war for CFP TV rights.
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Front Office Sports Today

NBC Could Get In On College Football Playoffs

NBC is exploring broadcasting a slice of the expanded CFP in 2026.
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October 3, 2023 | Podcast
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The much-maligned College Football Playoff is poised to possibly score the highest annual media rights fees of any college sports property.

With the CFP expanding from four to 12 teams by 2026, the CFP could sign media rights deals with multiple TV partners yielding well over $2 billion annually, sources told Front Office Sports.

The CFP’s current exclusive deal with ESPN reportedly pays an average of $470 million a year through 2026. The expanded playoff, however, could fetch as much as $2.2 billion per year — more than double the current payout.

Bob Thompson, the former president of Fox Sports Networks, thinks combined annual rights of $2 billion would be a “little light” given the addition of so many new postseason game telecasts.

“I think it will be north of $2 billion. So ($2.2 billion) is possible,” Thompson told Front Office Sports on Tuesday.

  • In this scenario, the CFP would top the annual fees for the NCAA’s deal with CBS/Turner for the Division I men’s basketball tournament  — which paid $870 million this year. 
  • It would also usurp the Big Ten’s latest mega-deal, which will average more than $1 billion a year (though rights will slowly increase over time). 

A major bump in rights fees may not be the only way the future contract looks different, however. 

Like the Big Ten Conference and the NHL before it, the CFP is expected to pursue an NFL-like strategy of splitting rights among multiple TV partners. The goal: maximize payout. 

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey told “The Paul Finebaum Show” that the CFP plans to have multiple networks bid on the deal. 

ESPN has data to suggest that it can maintain its spot as the leading network in the college football space even without the Big Ten — but that could be impossible without the CFP. When you include its new SEC package, ESPN projects its networks will account for 63% of all college football viewing among the advertiser-coveted 18-to-49 year old audience.

Fox, which just renewed a major chunk of Big Ten rights, is very interested in getting a slice of the CFP, sources told FOS. But ESPN wants to maintain its rights, FOS previously reported — and for good reason. 

Look for Fox to challenge ESPN for CFP rights in one of the biggest bidding wars in college sports history, predicted Thompson. 

From 2006-09, Fox held the rights to several Bowl Championship Series games — with an eye toward acquiring TV rights to a future playoff format. With Fox serving as the Big Ten’s main media partner, the network will demand a seat at the negotiating table. 

“Certainly, Fox and ESPN are the leading contenders in the house,” said the founder of Thompson Sports Group. 

NBC Sports and CBS Sports could also be contenders, he added. But if the playoff only consists of 12 teams, the CFP might not need more than two TV partners. 

Either way, ESPN may end up shelling out more to maintain its current contract. Hancock told reporters there’s a possibility the playoff could expand in 2024 or 2025, before the next contract. That could provide an additional windfall of $450 million, SI previously reported. 

“Sure, there’s going to be more revenue,” CFP executive director Bill Hancock told reporters on Friday. “We all know that. There’s four new days, four new games. This will be an 11-game event versus a seven-game event.” 

Hancock did not, however, speculate how much revenue would increase.

The power players running college football hope an expanded playoff could jump-start interest in their postseason. The current SEC-dominant iteration of the CFP has come under frequent criticism, as TV viewers are tired of seeing the same programs every year. 

ESPN’s telecast of Georgia’s victory over Alabama, for example, drew the second-lowest championship game audience since the new format was created in 2014-15.

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