Big 12 heading online for new Tier 3 media deal with ESPN+

The Big 12 still doesn’t have its own television network in the mold of the other four power conferences, but it has found a one-stop shop for Big 12 content.

The league announced Wednesday that ESPN will take over the third-tier media rights for eight of its member institutions beginning in the 2019-20 school year and running through 2024-25. The deal won’t kick in for West Virginia until 2020 due to WVU’s Tier 3 contract with AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh to televise various Mountaineer sporting events.

The agreement also moves the Big 12 football championship game onto ESPN or ABC every year through 2024. The game was previously scheduled to air on Fox in odd-numbered years.

The Big 12 was previously the only major conference that allowed member institutions to negotiate their own third-tier media rights.

“This is exciting and great news,” WVU athletic director Shane Lyons said in an official press release. “The Big 12-branded identity on ESPN+ is the logical next step for our conference.”

The deal calls for third-tier games to be streamed exclusively on ESPN+, which is ESPN’s online subscription service. According to Sports Business Journal, ESPN will pay the conference $40 million for the rights, with the money to be distributed among member schools.

One football game per year will be moved to the streaming service, which currently costs $4.99 per month. Based on future schedules, that will most likely be West Virginia’s “money game” against a Football Championship Subdivision opponent each season. Spring football games will also stream on ESPN+.

The deal will be far more noticeable in other sports.

All regular season and exhibition basketball games not currently on the ESPN family of networks will run on ESPN+. Each school will deliver “more than 50 exclusive events per year,” increasing exposure for sports such as women’s basketball, baseball, volleyball, soccer and wrestling.

Oklahoma and Texas are notably exempt from the contract due to existing long-term rights agreements. ESPN already has the affiliated Longhorn Network for Texas’ third-tier rights, while Oklahoma has a deal with Fox Sports through June 2022. However, conference games in which the Longhorns and Sooners are the road team will be part of the ESPN+ deal.

Lyons still touted the deal as a breakthrough for a league perceived to have member institutions pulling in different directions since the defections of Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri and Texas A&M.

“The strength and unity among the schools is greater than ever, and we are looking forward to partnering with ESPN for this next evolution, which will make the Big 12 brand even stronger,” Lyons said. “Each conference member has made the commitment to this digital offering, and the winners will be the fans.”

As the ACC launches a television and streaming network with ESPN this summer, the Big 12 remains the lone Power 5 league without a standalone television network.

“Our goal was to be forward-thinking in the use of technology to create a conference-branded platform,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a conference release. “[We] believe this partnership ideally positions the Big 12 now and into the foreseeable future.”

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