How Houston Astros, Rockets Helped Save Big 12

The best-kept secret at AOL Fanhouse, Jon Weinbach, has previously unreported details about the television negotiation that prevented the Big 12 from disintegrating.

Calvin Murphy's Houston Rockets Save Big 12

Several outlets have reported that ESPN and Fox, whose Big 12 TV contracts expire in 2016 and 2012, respectively, agreed to significantly higher payments in order to keep Texas in the Big 12 and secure the conference’s future. But a person familiar with the conference’s negotiations said “reports of a new TV deal between Fox and the Big 12 are inaccurate.”

A television network executive with knowledge of the negotiations also confirmed to me today that ESPN did not dump any more money into its existing deal with the Big 12. I was told that the key role played ESPN was that the network agreed not reduce to its financial commitment to the Big 12 despite two schools leaving the league.

ESPN’s financial contribution to the deal merely remained static, which means that a larger amount of revenue from the ESPN deal now goes to each of the 10 remaining Big 12 schools.

Weinbach also has previously unreported details on what motivated Fox to maintain its longterm relationship with the Big 12, effectively killing the proposed Pac-16 TV deal which was - ironically - authored the Fox.

According to several TV and college sports officials, however, neither ESPN nor Fox wanted to see the Big 12 go away, even if it meant increasing their payments to the conference or losing the rights to a few Texas games in the future.

“It’s all about shelf space on the network,” said one executive involved with the Pac-10 and Big 12 expansion discussions. “It’s beneficial to those two TV partners’ businesses to have [the Big 12] inventory as opposed to having to strike new deals and worry about a host of new problems.”

Fox had arguably more incentive to keep the Big 12 intact. Its cable deal with the conference was set to expire earlier than ESPN’s, and its over-the-air network no longer owns the rights to the Bowl Championship Series games. (ESPN will televise the five BCS games beginning this season.)

Finally, Weinbach reports that Fox’s interest in partnering with the Univ. of Texas on its own TV network and maintaining leverage in future broadcast rights deals with the Houston Astros and Rockets played a role in Fox’s motivation to, again, rule out the Pac-16 deal it had earlier proposed.

Fox also may well end up partnering with the University of Texas on its cable network. Moreover, Fox’s regional sports network in Houston is facing intense competition from Comcast, which recently launched a Houston channel and has moved aggressively to acquire rights to Houston Astros and Houston Rockets games, which are currently owned by Fox.

By keeping the Big 12 intact in some form, Fox guarantees that its regional sports channels in Houston and Dallas will have plenty of local content from schools such as Texas Tech, Baylor and Texas A&M.

So it appears that if Fox still owned the BCS rights, the Pac-16 may well have happened. But because Fox was no longer televising the BCS bowls, it had less incentive to take a huge gamble with a possible Pac-16 venture. So the network traded the uncertainty of its possible Pac-16 deal for the certainty of smaller, longterm arrangements with the Big 12, the Univ. of Texas and the Houston Astros and Rockets.

Though one wonders if any of that would’ve mattered had Texas not reportedly tried to chang the Pac-16 TV deal with Fox at the 11th hour by demanding its own television network.

That late demand by Texas, which the Longhorns had to know was a dealbreaker, now sounds more like an easy out for the school once it got what it wanted in a lopsided deal with the remaining Big 12 schools.