Goodbye Worldwide Leader in Sports, hello payday.
The Mountain West Conference dispensed with months of speculation Thursday, finally announcing a multiyear agreement for television broadcast rights with CBS and FOX that will garner the league at least $270 million through the 2025-26 athletic season. The new six-year deal, which begins in 2020-21, ends the league’s partnership with ESPN.
It’s a move geared at increasing revenues and exposure, MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson said.
“This strategically positions the Mountain West for future growth,” Thompson said in a teleconference with the league’s local media outlets Thursday afternoon. “We implicitly and steadfastly said we would not entertain any discussion of a term longer than six years. We weren’t willing to go eight, nine, 10 years or more just to inflate numbers. We feel the next five years are going to bring change in the market — perhaps significantly so — from both a technology and distribution perspective.”
Member schools, which includes the University of New Mexico, can expect an increase of up to 300 percent in annual revenues. Thompson wouldn’t go into details about how much each school would receive, but indications are that each would see revenues climb from about $1.2 million to between $3 million to 4 million annually.
That’s a significant boost to UNM, which has struggled in the last decade to balance its budget and has yet to finalize a multimedia rights deal to sell advertising and local broadcast spots. It’s a deal that could potentially garner at least $4 million annually for the athletic department.
Regardless, Thursday’s announcement is a victory for UNM. The projections are an indication that things will get at least a little better on the South Campus.
“Those are all just opportunities to help our student-athletes get to where we need to be,” UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez said. ”We all hope that the number is better, but right now until it’s all finalized, all we can do is do what we can control here. Once it is, we’ll take full advantage of it.”
Nuñez cautioned that the increased funds will not mean a revival of the team sports cut for budgetary reasons in 2018, namely men’s soccer. It, along with skiing and beach volleyball, were eliminated at the end of the 2018-19 athletic year.
“At this point I can’t [bring back soccer],” Nuñez said. “We’ve still got Title IX issues that we have to address.”
Under the new TV deal, FOX would get exclusive rights to all Boise State home football games as well as the MWC football championship game. FOX has also explored the possibility of taking its new pregame Noon Kickoff Show, which is similar to ESPN’s popular GameDay, to Boise, Idaho, next fall for the Broncos’ game against Florida State.
While FOX essentially replaces ESPN as the secondary broadcast partner of the Mountain West, CBS will remain the primary entity for the league. CBS and CBS Sports Network will televise 23 football games and 32 men’s basketball games each year. They also get rights to Boise State’s road football games.
FOX will carry 16 to 23 regular season football games with a minimum seven of them on the primary FOX or FS1 networks. FOX and CBS would then split a total of 10 Friday night football games with local kickoffs for Saturday games ranging from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
UNM will announce start times for its 2020 football schedule once the two networks decide their own broadcast formats.
“I would expect some game times to be more in the afternoon,” said FOX Sports President Mark Silverman, adding that he’d ideally like to have one early game and one late on most weekends.
“That early time frame literally, it was the second-highest rated window in all of college football last year, our noon Eastern time. We’re looking all over the board. We’re not only focused on late night.”
The league will explore the possibility of expanding the men’s basketball schedule to include games on more nights, with CBS carrying the MWC Tournament championship game and all quarterfinal and semifinal games on CBS Sports Network. Two regular season games will be carried on CBS with an additional 10 available to the network should the need arise.
“I would say there’s going to be more of an opportunity to play basketball games on maybe six nights out of the week versus the current five,” Thompson said. “It probably will expand into another night of the week.”
The late tip times that seem to be such a bother to fans will not change, particularly for basketball. Weekday games can start as late as 9 p.m., local time Monday through Saturday.
Thompson said the pairing of FOX and CBS has the potential of reaching 150 million households and that the $270 million is just an early projection that can, and probably will, get bigger after third-tier agreements are put in place over the next few months.