Just one year before Brett Yormark became Big 12 commissioner, the conference’s very existence was threatened by Texas and Oklahoma’s plan to move to the SEC.
Now, Yormark has developed an extensive list of goals to ensure the long-term success of the conference — and he’s impatient to get things done.
“If I see a problem, I want to solve that problem,” he told Front Office Sports. “If I see opportunity, I want to seize that moment.”
But while his goals to compete with other Power 5 leagues are ambitious, his approach has been relatively measured. Many concrete changes are still up in the air.
His wish list to secure the Big 12’s financial future includes a lucrative new media package, a smooth integration of four new members, and expansion exploration. He also wants the Big 12 to have a more “national” brand, with better storytelling and increased appeal to younger audiences. He even mentioned taking the Big 12 “international” — though he didn’t elaborate on how.
The first step to reach these goals, he said, was reorganizing the conference office. The team built different business verticals, hired new staff, and enlisted new partners like Endeavor to assist with future strategy.
He’s also engaged in a significant amount of travel. During the first month or so, he went on a listening tour to all Big 12 schools. This week, he came to New York City for a two-day media “blitz” including appearances on multiple ESPN shows, a photo op with mayor Eric Adams, and one-on-one interviews with New York-based reporters — including Front Office Sports.
“I think there is more that we can be doing in New York to elevate and amplify our story,” Yormark said. He has a long history in the New York sports market as a former Brooklyn Nets CEO and Roc Nation COO. He added, “I think we can do something very similar in the L.A. marketplace.”
Yormark is in early conversations with current partners ESPN and FOX, though the conference’s official negotiating window doesn’t open until February 2024.
“Over the last 30 days, we’ve been meeting,” he said. “And we’ve been very engaged. … I’m optimistic that we can possibly do something.” As of now, he doesn’t seem concerned if a deal doesn’t get done.
“What’s been comforting is both [media partners] realize that we’ve got a bright future,” Yormark said. “They like the direction of the conference, the makeup of the conference. They like the four new schools … So we’ll see where it goes.”
Yormark noted that “expansion is top of mind,” but didn’t offer specifics about what schools he may be eying — though he previously said he was interested in looking West. His considerations, though, include brand value, cultural fit, location, and strategy partners.
But current media negotiations are related to “the makeup of the conference today.”
“When I said in July that we’re open for business, it didn’t mean expansion,” he said. “It was more holistic — that everything was a blank canvas.”
As for additional initiatives, from sports betting and data and NIL to increased athlete benefits, Yormark is still in the brainstorming phase. “When I look at my whiteboard in my office, NIL is on there,” he said. “But we’re being very thoughtful about it.”
“At the end of the day, I’m looking at this from a long-game perspective,” he said. But he did admit, “Everything keeps me up at night.”