ARLINGTON, Texas — Incoming Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark, a longtime pro sports and entertainment business executive, used his first moment in the public eye to make an appeal to the future of the conference.
“One thing is for sure: there is no doubt the Big 12 is open for business,” Yormark said Wednesday during his opening remarks at Big 12 Media Days. “We will leave no stone unturned to drive value for the conference.”
Yormark was named Big 12 commissioner on June 29, one day before USC and UCLA made the stunning announcement that they were joining the Big Ten, setting off a massive second wave of realignment in as many years. Within hours of taking the job, Yormark was on the phone with key stakeholders. Despite being a college football newcomer, one source said that Yormark has already taken center stage in leading discussions about expansion and the future of the conference, whose leaders are falling into alignment behind him.
“One thing is crystal clear: there is no higher priority than to best position the Big 12 for its upcoming multimedia rights negotiations,” said Yormark. “Everything we do must create momentum for these negotiations, as well as building the value of the Big 12 brand and business.”
Yormark, 55, joined the Big 12 after more than a dozen years as the CEO of the Brooklyn Nets and two years as an entertainment executive at Jay-Z’s Roc Nation brand. Early in his career, Yormark claimed he put together a progression ladder with an ultimate goal of landing in college athletics — though he expected to be an athletic director, not a commissioner. But with his hiring, the Big 12 became the third Power Five conference to hand its future to an outsider (the Pac-12 hired MGM executive George Kliavkoff, while the Big Ten inked Kevin Warren from the NFL).
“We felt like with the really strong athletic directors in the conference that know athletics so well, bringing in someone who had really deep entertainment experience and sponsorship experience would be a wonderful combination,” Baylor president Linda Livingstone, who is also the vice president of the Big 12 board of directors, told CBS Sports.
Already, Yormark has flexed his branding muscles to define his vision for the conference. The phrase “young and hip” was at the front of his mind as the conference fights to increase its relevance and market share among the 18-24 demographic.
Yormark emphasized that he plans on keeping linear broadcasts at the center of the Big 12’s central broadcast package — think major networks like CBS, FOX and ESPN. However, he wants to use other platforms as storytelling tools to expand the league’s brand.
“There’s an opportunity to nationalize this brand, to be more aspirational, to appeal to youth culture, to get younger and hipper,” said Yormark. “Those are the things I’ll be working on.”
The Big 12 has taken an aggressive approach to realignment, as Yormark confirmed that he has been in conversations with stakeholders outside of the Big 12. However, he emphasizes that any moves will be judged solely on whether they will add long-term value for the conference.
Early reporting from CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd noted that at least four Pac-12 schools – including Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah – have had preliminary discussions with the Big 12. There is no timeline for any decision, however, and Pac-12 teams could go through the entire season without making any decisions, according to The Mercury News‘ Jon Wilner.
Yormark enters the Big 12 at a tenuous point in college football history. The Big Ten and SEC are set to lap the rest of the sport in average revenue per school. Three years from now, the Big 12 will have some sort of new television contract. Texas and Oklahoma will be leaving the conference by 2025, though Yormark specified that all options are on the table if the schools wanted to negotiate leaving early. BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF join the league in 2023.
Ultimately, though, Yormark is laser-focused on using his branding and marketing background to make the Big 12 attractive as possible as a holistic product. Yormark is transitioning out of his old job at Roc Nation, and will take over full-time as Big 12 commissioner on Aug. 1.
“I think when future student-athletes are thinking about where they want to go next, as they’re making those decisions, I want our brand to be aspirational,” said Yormark. “I want them to say, ‘I want to go to the Big 12 for all the right reasons.’ And collectively, with the group at the conference office, our goal is to do just that.
“I’m very excited about it. I think there’s a real opportunity.”