SBJ/20101129/This Week's Issue

ESPN negotiating for Pac-10 title game

Just a week after losing the Big Ten’s football championship to Fox, ESPN is deep into a 30-day exclusive negotiating window to secure rights to the Pac-10’s football championship game.

The exclusive window ends early next month, according to several sources. ESPN is negotiating to pick up the game for just one year, in 2011.

Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott confirmed that talks have begun and that ESPN was granted the exclusive window per the broadcast contract between the conference and ESPN that went into effect in 2007.

It’s not known whether ESPN is negotiating to put the game on ABC, but if ESPN wins the rights, it likely will schedule the game to compete head to head with the Big Ten’s game on Fox in prime time.

The Pac-10’s overall media rights are up after the 2011 season, and future championship games will be part of that package, Scott said. The league’s current contract with ABC/ESPN is valued at $125 million over five years.

ESPN, Fox and Comcast have expressed interest in picking up those rights, which could include helping the conference launch a Big Ten Network-style cable channel.

For the championship game, ESPN is negotiating directly with the Pac-10, though Scott is using CAA Sports as an adviser. If ESPN and the conference cannot reach an agreement by early December, the Pac-10 will take the championship game’s rights to the open market.

Deal terms for the Pac-10’s game will be different from the Big Ten’s. All in, the Big Ten’s negotiations with Fox amounted to an average of $30 million of new money annually for the conference’s schools to share from 2011 to 2016. That includes the rights fee for the championship game and additional revenue to account for the inclusion of Nebraska.

Because the Pac-10 is negotiating a single game in 2011, its rights fee is not expected to be nearly that high.

In its deal for the championship game, Fox agreed to pay the Big Ten an escalating fee of between $20 million and $25 million a year over the course of the six-year deal. The contract includes the marketing rights to the game and the ability to sell the title sponsorship and other sponsorships. Title sponsors for conference title games typically pay in the low to mid-seven figures.

Dr Pepper title sponsors the championship games in the Big 12 and ACC this year, although the Big 12 will not have a title game in the future as it shrinks from 12 teams to 10. The SEC does not have a title sponsor, but Dr Pepper has the title sponsorship of the Fanfare event. ESPN televises the Big 12 and ACC championship games, while CBS shows the SEC championship.

During the title game talks, Fox also reopened its Big Ten Network contract to account for the addition of Nebraska, which is leaving the Big 12 for the Big Ten next year. Fox agreed to pay the conference an additional $7 million a year and extend the Big Ten Network’s rights deal with the conference by an extra year, sources said.

That would take the Big Ten Network’s 25-year rights deal through 2033, including all options. Fox owns 49 percent of the network, and the conference owns 51 percent.

The Pac-10, meanwhile, is not including sponsorship rights in its broadcast deal. Pac-10 Properties, which is managed by Fox, will sell the title sponsorship and any other sponsorships associated with the game.

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