While the Big East is still months away from entering its exclusive negotiations with ESPN for a new television contract, current and future members continue to research just how lucrative the next deal will be. According to Brent Schrotenberger in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Navigate Research, a national market research firm, estimates that Big East football-playing members stand to make around $7.8 million per year in the next Big East contract. He writes:
--Football-only members in the Big East stand to make $7.8 million per year. Basketball-only members would make $3.2 million per year, and full members in all sports would make $11 million. SDSU and Boise plan to join in football only on July 1, 2013.
--If SDSU and Boise State stayed in the Mountain West instead of joining the Big East, the Big East deal still probably would be at least double that of the Mountain West.
The second point should put to bed any further talk of Boise State and San Diego State bailing on the Big East. By being associated with the Big East, both its existing eastern schools and future schools, San Diego State and Boise State will earn double for football what they would otherwise earn as a member of the Mountain West. But what would happen to the deal if Boise State were to bail? Schrotenberger writes:
--Even if Boise State decides not to join the Big East, SDSU and other football-only members of the Big East still would make about $7.3 million, according to Navigate.
Those projections make it even less likely that San Diego State would automatically jump ship with Boise State should the Broncos opt for another conference home. The two schools have typically been viewed as a pair that would come and go together, but the research done by Schrotenberger recently indicates that San Diego State is likely to work to remain in the Big East even if Boise State does not ultimately join the Big East for football (which is still considered a possibility because the school is struggling to find a conference home for its other sports).
What would make the television deal even more valuable? Adding BYU for football, of course. Schrotenberger quotes the Navigate Research firm:
BYU as a football-only school would give the deal a slight boost because of its following within Utah and from Mormons nationally, although the Big East and BYU would have to iron out quite a few details regarding BYUtv (BYU’s TV network)," Nelson said. "The conference would want to ensure it can offer BYU’s most valuable content (any marquee BYU football games) as part of the conference TV deal.
"Assuming that could be done, though, I think the football schools could see average annual revenue per school move up to $8 million or a little bit higher."
Later in the piece, Schrotenberger adds that adding Air Force as the 14th school would not add the same value to the television contract as BYU. That being the case, BYU will likely be a much more sought after target by the Big East as it seeks to nail down membership that will maximize television value going forward. I remain skeptical that money will ever be enough to convince BYU to make the move, but if scheduling going forward becomes increasingly difficult as other conferences expand to nine-game schedules and fewer late season games are available, a conference move might become a necessity and the Big East could offer national exposure, established western rivalries, and the opportunity to host a conference championship game.
Finally, it is worth remembering that television contract projections are just that: projections. They're based on research, but no more. Recall that, six months before the PAC 12 finalized a television contract that pays the conference $225 million per year, informed projections were that the league would get around $175 million per year. The Big East is obviously not going to approach those kinds of numbers for a television deal. Conversely, Brett McMurphy of CBS Sports reported that the Big East could receive signficantly less than what Navigate Research is projecting. Is one right and one wrong? No, McMurphy is reporting feedback from unnamed industry sources and Navigate is reporting what it has found by doing its own research. Only time will tell.
Personally, I would be stunned to see the Big East get lowballed to the degree McMurphy reported. Mostly because of the nature of the marketplace. Live sports programming is one of the only sure things on television. Fox Sports, and NBC are both desperate to expand their live sports broadcasting and one of the reasons the PAC 12 deal was so large was ESPN and Fox Sports teamed up to keep Comcast/NBC from getting the contract. With the Big East being the last conference with a major deal to negotiate, NBC is going to be aggressive and whoever wants to rights is going to have to offer enough to make it worth it for San Diego State, Boise State, and possibly BYU (or Air Force) to make the move at all. It would make no sense for NBC (or ESPN or Fox Sports) to seek the Big East contract and not offer enough money to hold the conference together.