Big 12 Expansion Rumors: TV Revenue Projections More Important Than Playoff Odds

As rumors persist about a potential Big 12 Conference expansion nearing, presidents of the league schools can thank a research project for all the fuss.

While most college football analysts are focusing on a Navigate Research presentation that suggested the conference could increase its likelihood to make the four-team playoff by as much as 15 percent through expansion, a second research project will weigh more heavily on the presidents’ minds when considering Big 12 expansion.

That research was done by Bevilacqua Helfant Ventures. The group discussed multipe subjects important to the future health of the Big 12 Conference, the Dallas Morning News reported from the earlier meetings.

“BHV has been testing the waters on a conference TV network and what a new television deal would be worth if the Big 12 expands and extends its current deal that runs through 2024-25. While cable networks are cutting back in the face of cord-cutting, the appetite for live sports broadcasting remains strong. The projections and any increase in TV revenue will be one key for how the Big 12 proceeds on expansion.”

Bevilacqua Helfant Ventures has become more than just a research group for the league now that an association with the Big 12 has been confirmed, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported. The article noted that Chris Bevilacqua has been working with the Big 12 since the beginning of the month, and his voice and his company’s projections figure to be powerful factors on the expansion topic.

“His firm is a ‘media and other commercial rights’ advisor. Bevilacqua helped start CSTV/CBS-SM and what is now ESPN Classic. He’s worked with the Big East on a network deal.”

Dallas Morning News reporter Chuck Carlton surmised as much, suggesting television markets could be heavily favored for potential new members. While Carlton noted that recent football success will also be considered, the presidents of the Big 12 are more likely looking at the revenue potential from a possible expansion candidate than what athletic success the institution’s experienced recently.

“[W]ith expansion and a TV network apparently linked, TV markets are going to be a key. Expect the presidents to listen intently to the update from Big 12 TV consultants Bevilacqua Helfant Ventures about the appetite for a network and what expansion candidates could contribute the most.

The current Big 12 configuration already includes some of the largest television markets in the United States, according to research from The Nielsen Company. Without expansion, the league has teams in four of the top 100 markets — Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Des Moines-Ames, and Waco — in the United States. As most conferences can claim, the Big 12 also draws heavily in surrounding markets that are in the top 100 — including the likes of Houston, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, and Wichita.

While some schools appearing in Big 12 expansion rumors can deliver sizable markets — six schools lie within top-50 markets — adding large household counts won’t convert immediately into cash for the league. That was the same logic behind the previous version of the Big East Conference that added TCU in 2010. The addition of the Horned Frogs through expansion gave the league a massive foot print with 17 schools, nine of which played football, NewsDay reported at the time.

“By establishing a foothold in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the fifth-largest media market in the country, the Big East TV market will reach 25 million U.S. households covering more than 25 percent of the country.”

Basing the expansion decision on odds presented by Navigate Research is fool-hearty at best, according to a number of articles. A report by Vice Sports used data from the Big Ten Conference to make its case for rejecting the research. In addition to demonstrating how a title game cost Iowa a spot in the college football playoffs last season, the article showed that adding a championship game generated roughly $4.7 million for the conference, or $335,000 per school when split evenly between 14 member institutions. Economist Andy Schwarz urged the Big 12 to proceed with caution when making its expansion decision based off Navigate’s analysis.

“We have an insignificant amount of data to see who makes the CFP, because there’s been two of them. It’s hard to figure out how and why Ohio State got ahead of the other teams the first year and turn that into the rule… That’s somebody at Navigate making stuff up. Let’s kind of stick our finger up in the air and this is what they care about.”

Standing pat is not an option that appeals to Big 12 Conference Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, according to the Hartford Courant. “If the Big 12 does nothing,” commissioner Bob Bowlsby said, “the conference will fall $20 million per school behind the Big Ten and SEC in 12 years,” writer Jeff Jacobs penned about Big 12 expansion.

With less than a week before the Big 12 Conference presidents converge on Irving, Texas for their annual meetings, expansion talks have dominated the rumors about what the league presidents will discuss. Rumors of possible expansion began when the league’s athletic directors and football coaches met in Phoenix with some early talk that members could be added as early as this summer, The Inquisitr reported.

The latest Big 12 expansion rumors have focused on a pair of Power 5 schools — Arizona and Arizona State — as potential targets for expansion. Beyond the Arizona schools, as many as 10 institutions are thought to be candidates for Big 12 expansion should the league add members. Those schools include Brigham Young, Connecticut, Houston, Memphis, USF, UCF, Cincinnati, and Colorado State.

Institutions like Colorado State and UCF have been pushing for inclusion during potential Big 12 expansion since 2015, attempting to get a leg up on other candidates. Some analysts consider BYU and UConn locks as potential expansion targets, but the league would likely only take one of the universities.

What’s blocking the Big 12 expansion from progressing is the super majority vote needed to add new members. The University of Texas seems to be behind the obstruction, wielding its influence to get Texas Tech and TCU to vote against expansion. Texas could be the program that suffers the most during expansion, considering the school might have to yield the infrastructure behind the Longhorn Network for the Big 12 to build a league-wide network.

How do you think the presidents will act upon possible Big 12 expansion? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

[Photo by Tony Gutierrez/AP Images]