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ESPN Reportedly Lands $7.8B CFP Extension. Here’s What We Know

  • ESPN will reportedly retain all of the CFP’s media rights through 2032.
  • ‘The Athletic’ is reporting an extended deal will be worth $7.8 billion.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The race for the College Football Playoff’s future media rights may be over.

The Athletic is reporting that ESPN and the CFP are in agreement on a six-year, $7.8 billion extension for the network to retain all of the Playoff’s broadcast rights through the 2031–32 season. ESPN has owned rights to the CFP since it began in ’14, and its current contract runs for the next two seasons. The new deal hasn’t been officially signed, per The Athletic, and is contingent upon CFP leaders finalizing details of the expanded 12-team format.

Last month, ESPN college football reporter Pete Thamel put out a report saying his network was in talks about a deal of this nature. (Front Office Sports has previously reported, however, that Fox Sports was planning a major push to get a slice of the rights.)

Both ESPN and the CFP declined to provide a comment on the report to FOS

What FOS Is Hearing

FOS reporter Amanda Christovich: FOS was unable to confirm The Athletic’s report, with one industry source saying that it definitely took some by surprise. If the report is true, however, it could be ESPN’s checkmate against Fox in the battle for college football supremacy. The two have been the ruling duopoly of CFB media rights, with ESPN controlling the SEC and Fox controlling the Big Ten, for the past several years.

According to The Athletic, ESPN could still sublicense some games in the expanded 12-team event out to other networks, so Fox could still broadcast a few games if it buys them from ESPN. Not to mention that the new streaming sports bundle with Fox Corp., ESPN, and Warner Bros. Discovery allows all three networks to benefit from one another’s inventory. But ultimately, the college football duopoly appears to be collapsing into a monopoly—something commissioners at non-ESPN conferences have been trying to prevent for more than a year.

FOS senior writer Michael McCarthy: ESPN might as well put an “F” in its name for football. To me, ESPN is sending a message to friend and foe that it’s making itself primarily a football-driven media company. We know the four letters have locked up the NFL’s Monday Night Football package through 2033—along with its first two Super Bowls. Now it’s finalizing rights to the only bowl games that will move the needle TV-wise over the next decade of college football. Plus, it’s sending a shot across the bows of Fox Sports, its biggest rival for college football rights.

As media consultant Lee Berke told me Tuesday: “Football has done extraordinarily well for [ESPN]. They have both pro and college. They’ve made a substantial investment in retaining all the SEC rights going forward—and they’re splitting the Big 12. Look, ESPN owns bowl season. There’s very few bowl games that are not part of that package. Essentially, what will happen is these bowls, under this expanded Playoff system, will increasingly be the only major bowl games that matter. To have that entire franchise is a terrific opportunity. … [Football] delivers time and again. So it makes a lot of sense.”

Crowded Competition

Aside from ESPN, CBS, Fox, NBC, Warner Bros. Discovery, Apple, and Amazon had all been linked to at least hold preliminary discussions with the CFP for some or all of its media rights. Fox, in particular, was said to be weighing a “massive bid.” Sources previously told FOS that the CFP was exploring the idea of creating a Super Bowl–like rotation among multiple network partners for the national championship game. In the end, though, it appears ESPN was able to win out.

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