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Big East begins extension talks with ESPN

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According to SportsBusinessDaily.com, the Big East and ESPN have begun talks to extend the 30+ year relationship between the conference and cable network. A new deal may take a longer time to hammer out, because the conference members are not on the same page in terms of strategy. Some conference members reportedly would prefer to take negotiations to the open market at the conclusion of the current contract, however, and ESPN would likely need to present a very big number to get those schools on board now.

Initial discussions have suggested to the conference that rights fees will continue to escalate for college sports and school administrators will likely be pleased with the increased revenue that an extension or new deal will provide.

Normally, talks about an extension would not have begun until this time next year, but ESPN, in the face of an increasingly-competitive market for rights, is apparently motivated to explore an extension now. As John Ourand and Michael Smith wrote:

ESPN currently pays the Big East an average of $36 million annually as part of a six-year contract for all of its sports. While initial numbers being floated may not be as rich as the ESPN/ACC deal that was struck last spring, it would still mark a major boost for the 16-team conference.

Sources indicate the early numbers range from $110 million to $130 million annually, but conference sources describe those figures as a starting point for any negotiation. The initial offer would fall short of the $155 million annual payout the ACC will receive from ESPN in a deal that kicks in this summer. But the bold push by ESPN shows the network wants to lock down college rights in the face of increasing competition.

The addition of TCU (which would come before the conclusion of the current deal), and potential addition of a 10th football member are possibly driving forces behind the deal. The market for rights fees is extremely good at the moment, as recent deals by the ACC and Big XII have demonstrated, and the Big East would like to increase their revenues accordingly in a bid to stabilize the conference.

Basketball has driven the bus in prior television negotiations, and that remains likely to stay the case as that sport is the Big East's premiere product. The real question for the conference is how much bigger the football revenue can become -- an ACC-like distribution for conference schools could stabilize membership and end the constant speculation of a break-up.