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New Big 12/ESPN contract moves some OSU games to digital broadcast

The Big 12’s new contract with ESPN means that more Oklahoma State sporting events will be broadcast digitally, including the Sept. 7 football game against McNeese State. And OSU officials say that’s not a bad thing.

The Big 12 announced the new partnership Wednesday, a contract in which the conference’s third-tier rights now belong to ESPN, which will distribute them primarily over its new internet-streaming service, ESPN+. OU and Texas are notably absence from the agreement, since their third-tier rights are locked up in other contracts.

Third-tier rights are one football game per season per school, some non-conference basketball games and most of the full regular seasons of other sports.

OSU athletic director Mike Holder said that his department is unlikely to reap much revenue from the new agreement, “but there’s a great opportunity for exposure on a platform that’s really exciting. Recruiting athletes, staying in touch with fanbases, donors. Anyone with any interest in Oklahoma State or anyone we might be able to nurture interest, we’re going to be able to touch them.”

ESPN+ is a multi-sport, direct-to-consumer video service that was launched a year ago. So far, ESPN+ claims two million subscribers, at a cost of $4.99 a month or $49.99 a year. It offers thousands of live events, on-demand content and original programming not available on ESPN’s linear TV or digital networks (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPNEWS, ESPN Classic). Customers can cancel at any time. Subscriptions are available at www.espnplus.com and include thousands of live events and thousands of hours of on-demand content, including original programming and the 30 for 30 film library.

Big 12 schools have controlled their own third-tier rights for almost a decade. Texas has the Longhorn Network and OU has an extensive contract with Fox Sports Oklahoma that guarantees 1,000 hours a year of Sooner coverage. But the other eight schools don’t have such platforms. Most have signed contracts with Fox Sports, but live-event broadcasts are spotty.

Now, each school can place on ESPN+ as many events as it desires and is required to provide at least 50 per school year.

Holder mentioned the $10 million investment OSU has made on its broadcast division, Orange Power Studio, and said he believes the Cowboy telecasts – baseball, for example – are of the highest quality.

“We’ve just been frustrated we haven’t gotten them broadcast as much as we’d like,” Holder said.

Now, OSU can produce as many live events for broadcast as it wants, and the games will be distributed on ESPN+.

“It’s not that Fox hasn’t been a good partner,” said OSU associate athletic director Kevin Klintworth. “It’s that they’re always working around Rangers or Mavericks or OU, and we have to cobble together our start time.”

Now OSU controls its own starting times for those events, including non-conference basketball. It’s possible that some conference basketball games would be included on the ESPN+ package, since a few conference games in recent years have fallen to school control.

The contract goes into effect this summer for OSU, Kansas, Baylor and Kansas State. TCU, Texas Tech, West Virginia and Iowa State join in summer 2020.

The Big 12 is the first conference to have an exclusive arrangement with ESPN+, and conference athletic directors say this places the league in a strong strategic position to monitor the digital landscape when the current television contracts expire in 2024.

“While this decision means a change in how our local and regional fans watch a few early-season games, it will allow Jayhawks around the world the convenience of watching games when they want and with the same excellent quality we are all used to on the ESPN Networks,” said Kansas athletic director Jeff Long. “We also know more and more Jayhawk fans look to digital platforms to watch their favorite programming; now they will be able watch their favorite team via the industry’s leading digital sports platform.”

Holder mentioned the starting times as a major plus for the new contract. Basketball games broadcast on ESPN+ will be set for the sweet spot of 7 p.m.; Fox and ESPN both have moved mid-week games to either 6 p.m. or 8 p.m. on a regular basis.

As part of the agreement, all Big 12 events on ESPN+ will be produced and presented under a Big 12-branded offering to be developed by the conference and ESPN.

“Our institutions are thrilled with the exposure all 10 athletics programs will receive through this Big 12-branded offering,” said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. “Building on our relationship with ESPN … allows our programs access to cutting-edge technology through the ESPN+ platform, and the ability for multiple live contests to be distributed simultaneously. Our goal was to be forward thinking in the use of technology to create a conference-branded platform and believe this partnership ideally positions the Big 12 now and into the foreseeable future.”

Here are the comments from each Big 12 athletic director:

Joe Castiglione, Oklahoma: “This is a hallmark day in the history of the Big 12 Conference. It affirms the stated desire of our Board of Directors and Athletics Directors to be forward thinking in the use of technology in delivering a conference-branded outlet that enables all fans to follow their favorite teams. Today’s announcement further enhances the Big 12 brand and favorably positions the conference for years to come.”

Mike Holder, Oklahoma State: “The Big 12-branded identity on ESPN+ is a step forward for our conference. While no one knows exactly what tomorrow may bring, all indications are that digital platforms are the future. At Oklahoma State we are excited to partner with our conference brethren in this next evolution of college athletics.”

Mack Rhoades, Baylor: “Today marks a significant milestone for the Big 12, ESPN and our fans. The creation of a Big 12-branded identity on ESPN+ will not only expand the scope of our offerings but it will also serve as a platform to provide exclusive content directly to the Baylor family – content that can be accessed live and from anywhere in the country. This collaboration is a recognition of the strength of this conference and the continued progress and bright future that is ahead for the Big 12. We are incredibly grateful for the partnership of ESPN and look forward to all that is to come.”

Jamie Pollard, Iowa State: “We are tremendously pleased with the upcoming launch of a Big 12-branded digital channel on ESPN+. The network will allow us to efficiently showcase our student-athletes, coaches and institutions to fans across the nation. Solidifying a partnership with ESPN enhances our conference brand and allows us to continue delivering Iowa State Athletics content successfully in the rapidly changing environment of sports telecasting. This Big 12-branded offering will raise the visibility of the league, potentially enhance revenues and further solidifies our standing as one of the elite conferences nationally.”

Gene Taylor, K-State: “The Big 12 Conference is in the midst of one its most steady and successful periods in its history, and this new partnership with ESPN on a branded digital network is another sign of growth and solidarity for our league and 10 institutions. For the first time ever, fans will be able to follow all live Big 12 action in one location as we continue to evolve and be a leader in the ever-changing world of technology and broadcasting options, while putting ourselves in solid position for the future with all of our media and sponsorship rights aligning. We appreciate the work of commissioner Bowlsby and the executives at ESPN for working together and maintaining the Big 12’s position as one of the premier athletic conferences in the country.”

Jeff Long, Kansas: “This agreement strengthens the Big 12 Conference’s alliance with our valued broadcast partner, and helps ensure the conference’s future financial growth. While this decision means a change in how our local and regional fans watch a few early-season games, it will allow Jayhawks around the world the convenience of watching games when they want and with the same excellent quality we are all used to on the ESPN Networks. We also know more and more Jayhawk fans look to digital platforms to watch their favorite programming; now they will be able watch their favorite team via the industry’s leading digital sports platform.”

Jeremiah Donati, TCU: “This announcement is incredibly exciting for each of the member institutions and their respective constituents. Not only does it demonstrate that our leadership is focused on being ahead of the industry trend, it sends a strong statement about the long term viability of the conference as a whole.”

Chris Del Conte, Texas: “We are very excited for Longhorn fans to be able to watch us compete in a wide array of sports from across the Big 12. To be the first autonomy conference to have a branded identity on the ESPN+ platform speaks to the long-term growth of the conference and the embrace of technology to deliver content to our fans.”

Kirby Hocutt, Texas Tech: “This is an exciting announcement for the Big 12 Conference. The opportunity to strengthen our partnership with ESPN, in a truly worldwide type of opportunity, is tremendous. The digital technology world is the future and this will put the Big 12 Conference at the forefront in college sports.”

Shane Lyons, West Virginia: “This is exciting and great news. The Big 12-branded identity on ESPN+ is the logical next step for our conference. 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. Each conference member has made the commitment to this digital offering, and the winners will be the fans.”

Related Photos
Oklahoma State's Keondre Wudtee (11) gets by Missouri State's Kevin Ellis (43) in the fourth quarter during a college football game between the Oklahoma State Cowboys (OSU) and the Missouri State Bears at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

Oklahoma State's Keondre Wudtee (11) gets by Missouri State's Kevin Ellis (43) in the fourth quarter during a college football game between the Oklahoma State Cowboys (OSU) and the Missouri State Bears at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. Photo by Sarah Phipps,...

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-18f6214b63bfece3e665b5ff75689077.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma State's Keondre Wudtee (11) gets by Missouri State's Kevin Ellis (43) in the fourth quarter during a college football game between the Oklahoma State Cowboys (OSU) and the Missouri State Bears at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman" title="Oklahoma State's Keondre Wudtee (11) gets by Missouri State's Kevin Ellis (43) in the fourth quarter during a college football game between the Oklahoma State Cowboys (OSU) and the Missouri State Bears at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Oklahoma State's Keondre Wudtee (11) gets by Missouri State's Kevin Ellis (43) in the fourth quarter during a college football game between the Oklahoma State Cowboys (OSU) and the Missouri State Bears at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure>
Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

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