Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Big 12 mulls selling naming rights, opening door for conference to be rebranded with corporate sponsor

The Big 12 is exploring the possibility of selling its naming rights to a corporate sponsor that could drive hundreds of millions of dollars into the conference, sources confirmed to CBS Sports.

The deal would be the first of its kind in collegiate athletics, sparked by the growing need for new revenue streams as the industry prepares to share with players as part of the multi-billion House v. NCAA settlement. Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark presented the naming rights proposal to conference administrators during a meeting in Dallas in late May. 

First reported by Yahoo! Sports, the idea is to drop the “Big” from the conference name and replace it with the corporate sponsor, though the “12” would likely be retained, according to a source familiar with the proposal. Conference USA is also aiming for a multi-million naming-rights sponsorship, according to Yahoo Sports

The Big 12 is attempting to close its financial gap with the SEC and Big Ten, which will soon dwarf the other Power Four conferences in revenue with their television deals and College Football Playoff payout. The Big 12 is set to earn $12 million per team annually in the new 12-team CFP, ranking fourth among the power conferences; Big Ten and SEC teams are paid roughly $21 million.

The Big 12 is also exploring a private equity investment that could infuse as much as $1 billion in exchange for up to a 20% stake in the league, CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd first reported Thursday. Luxembourg-based CVC Capital Partners is in discussions with the Big 12, and one source told CBS Sports the talks are “pretty serious.”

Big 12 teams are currently earning $31.7 million each with Fox and ESPN in a media rights deal that ends in 2031. Add in the cash infusion from private equity, and the two revenue streams would combine to move the Big 12  “much closer” to the Big Ten media rights deal, according to a person with intimate knowledge of the proposal.

“Private equity and naming rights are among a variety of commercial opportunities the league is exploring to close the gap between Big 12 and the Big Ten and SEC, and to maintain the highest level of competitiveness,” another Big 12 source told CBS Sports.

The Big Ten leads all conferences, with its schools set to earn approximately $75 million per year under its new media rights agreement with Fox, CBS and NBC.

The Big 12 has formed a small working group of three Big 12 presidents to dissect the details of a possible private equity investment, source told CBS Sports. The Big 12’s current rights deal is worth $2.3 billion.

FBS programs will soon be on the hook to pay players for the first time in history. The NCAA and power conferences opted to settle the House v. NCAA lawsuit last month with a proposal that will allow schools to share as much as $22 million annually with athletes. In total, schools are expected to pay as much as $300 million over the next decade for back payments totaling approximately $2.7 billion and future revenue shares to athletes.

Yormark said in May the growing interest among private equity in college sports was “validation” for the growth of the collegiate sports enterprise and its bright future. Several schools have explored private equity opportunities, most notably Florida State, which partnered with private equity firm Sixth Street, as it continues to explore exiting the ACC over revenue disputes. 

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey wasn’t as keen on the prospect of private equity entering the college athletics marketplace during his conference’s spring meetings in May, though he, too, viewed the interest as a “compliment.” He pointed to the threat facing restaurant chain Red Lobster, which faces annihilation after a private equity partnership, and the strict guidelines for how private equity is used in professional leagues.

“There are cautionary tales about private equity out there,” Sankey said. “I’ve had a half-dozen or more meetings with representatives, all good people, all learning opportunities, but I think people have to exercise a level of care before just jumping in.”

Related articles

Share article

Latest articles

Newsletter

Subscribe to stay updated.