SBJ/July 30-August 5, 2012/Colleges

Champions Bowl is going to ESPN

Price tag similar to Rose Bowl’s

ESPN has taken another step toward owning college football’s new postseason by striking a deal to broadcast the Champions Bowl from 2015 through 2026.

Even though the Champions Bowl is just two months old, industry sources say it will receive roughly the same rights fee that ESPN will pay the nearly century-old Rose Bowl: an average of $80 million annually over 12 years. The bowl will be played in prime time on New Year’s Day each of the 12 years of the deal, a slot that typically draws strong ratings and enhances the value of the game.

The network wouldn’t comment, but ESPN moved quickly to lock down the rights to the Champions Bowl just weeks after it extended its long-running Rose Bowl deal. That leaves the Orange Bowl and the new playoff package for networks to bid on.

Industry sources say ESPN and Fox have expressed the most interest in the playoff package, which includes the championship game, the semifinals and the three “access” bowls that will be among the six bowls in the rotation to host semifinal games.

The total playoff package, including the semifinals and finals, the access bowls, as well as the three contract bowls — the Champions, Rose and Orange — is expected to go for $600 million or more a year. TV negotiations for the Orange Bowl are expected to run through August, and talks for the playoff package could begin in September.

With the Rose and Champions bowls in its grasp, ESPN’s next move is to go after the Orange Bowl, which would give the network all of the best games on New Year’s Day. If ESPN secures the Orange, the network will have a Jan. 1 lineup of all three contract bowls — the Orange at 1 p.m.; the Rose at 5 p.m.; and the Champions at 8 or 8:30 p.m. — from 2015 through 2026.

The three access bowls are expected to be played on New Year’s Eve. Other bowls outside of the playoff rotation, such as the Gator or Outback bowls, could be played on Dec. 31 or Jan. 1 as well.

The Champions Bowl will pit the best available teams from the SEC and the Big 12 Conference. If the conference champion is not in the national semifinals, it will play in the bowl game. If the champion is in the playoffs, the next-best team from that conference will go to the Champions Bowl.

The two conferences announced the formation of the game in May to give them what SEC Commissioner Mike Slive called “a new January bowl tradition” that will rival the Rose Bowl. While it might not have the history of the Rose, which started in 1902 with a single game and has run continuously since 1916, the Champions Bowl leveraged its attractive conference matchup and its time slot into a deal on par with the Rose’s.

The SEC and the Big 12 will share revenue equally from the ESPN deal, which was jointly negotiated by the two conferences. In the years when the Champions Bowl rotates in to host a semifinal game in the playoff, the TV revenue will be shared by all of the FBS conferences.

The Orange Bowl annually will have an ACC team playing an opponent to be determined. The ACC is in discussions with Notre Dame, the SEC, the Big 12 and the Big Ten to establish who the opponent will be on a year-to-year basis. ACC Commissioner John Swofford said last week that the Big East has not been a part of the negotiations for the Orange Bowl.

Once the ACC reaches an agreement on an opponent, a decision that is expected in the next week or two, the conference will turn its attention to negotiating a TV deal for the Orange Bowl — and there’s every reason to believe that ESPN will be the front-runner there, too. All of the ACC’s media rights belong to ESPN as part of a separate long-term relationship, and the network will not want one of the bowls in the playoff rotation to get away to Fox or another network contender.

The ACC probably won’t get the same rights fee that the Rose and Champions bowls received, industry sources said, because the matchup and the time slot aren’t as attractive. As is the case with the Champions Bowl, in those years when the game is outside of the playoff rotation, the TV revenue from the Orange will be shared by the ACC and the opponent.

The TV negotiations for the Orange Bowl are expected to run through August, at the end of which time (barring an upset) ESPN likely will own the rights to all three of the contract bowls. ESPN’s current contract for the BCS gives it the right to negotiate first for the playoff package.

The Champions Bowl will now seek a venue for the game. The SEC and Big 12 are working on a request for proposal expected to go out to potential host sites soon.

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