ESPN, College Football Playoff Agree to Six-Year, $7.8B Extension

The expanded College Football Playoff is expected to remain exclusive to the network that launched the series 10 years ago, as ESPN is in the process of securing a six-year extension that will keep the tourney in-house through the 2031-32 season. Under the provisional terms that have been drawn up, Disney will pay around $1.3 billion for each year of the new agreement.

While CFP officials have yet to vote on the renewal, sources said that many of the key issues have been resolved to both sides’ satisfaction. ESPN has negotiated for the rights to carry each of the six games under the expanded format; that said, it is not immediately clear if Bristol is or is not planning on dealing in Fox as a sublicensee.

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ESPN declined to comment on the matter. News of the pending deal was first reported by The Athletic.

Other network groups that have been eyeballing a small package of early playoff games include NBC Sports and Warner Bros. Discovery, although Fox is said to have been particularly focused on getting in on college football’s beefed-up postseason bracket.

Fox may have tacitly acknowledged its interest in a piece of the new-look CFP last year during an earnings call, when CEO Lachlan Murdoch told investors that the company would not be bidding on a chunk of the NBA rights once Disney’s and WBD’s exclusive negotiation window expires later this spring. While the NBA never seemed a proper fit for Fox, which has made its bones on football, MLB, college basketball, the FIFA World Cup and NASCAR, some Murdoch-watchers believe the Fox Corp. boss is looking to elevate the company’s already lucrative association with the Big Ten by way of a deeper dive into the postseason.

CFP executive director Bill Hancock has been working the podcast circuit of late, and in the course of making the rounds, the soon-to-retire exec has confirmed that negotiations were progressing, but that a deal had not been finalized.

Under the expanded 12-team format, the CFP will play out over a stretch of 11 games, including four quarterfinal matchups, two semis and the national championship. The field will feature the six highest-ranked conference champions, which will be granted automatic bids, with the four top teams earning a first-round bye to the quarterfinals. The other six invitations will be extended to the highest-ranked remaining programs.

The new CFP will unspool over the course of a month, kicking off on Dec. 20 of this year and culminating with the title tilt on Jan. 20, 2025. Ever since ESPN hosted the very first CFP in 2014, the tourney featured a far more restricted field of four teams.

Aside from the big TV ratings and the high-end production values that ESPN has brought to bear on the CFP, the network’s stewardship has been informed by significant sponsorships and activations from the jump. Among the top-tier marketers that have been aligned with the CFP since it succeeded the old Bowl Championship Series scheme include Dr Pepper, Allstate and AT&T, which are perennially among college football’s top five backers. Last season alone, those three brands invested a combined $57.3 million on in-game TV advertising.

ESPN has two years left on its current contract, which was extended in 2018. That deal pays out $608 million per season, making the new arrangement worth a little more than twice the value of the legacy pact.

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