The decade began with a new direction for the Mountain West as they improved their standing with their new TV deal. The deal gives the conference’s rights to Fox Sports and CBS Sports, with some basketball and football games televised on the main networks themselves.
The new contract makes the Mountain West and the American the only Group of Five conferences with guaranteed games on network TV. This is a huge advantage, as in the age of cord-cutting, the most-watched games are still on the networks. Just look at 2019’s rankings (or 2018’s for that matter).
While Fox has yet to catch up to ABC’s overall reputation, they provide an opportunity for exposure the conference has lacked. There’s also a big opportunity with CBS now that the SEC will be done with CBS come 2023.
This puts the Mountain West in a position to be CBS’s flagship conference in college football. In the meantime, the conference and the network mutually benefit from the Mountain West providing early-season games, especially in Week Zero and Week One when SEC usually forgoes televising a game on CBS.
This also represents a substantial increase in revenue, as the annual payout to the conference climbs all the way to $45 million per year, a massive improvement over previous years.
It could also climb still higher if the MWC does indeed supplant the SEC and thus a renegotiation with CBS becomes a factor.
The Boise State Problem
Another aspect of the new deal is Boise State’s separate stake. Fox Sports owns the rights to the Broncos’ home games while CBS Sports owns the road games.
Already, this has opened up an opportunity for added exposure to the conference as FOX is looking to make Boise State’s home game against Florida State their Big Noon Kickoff game for that week.
However, there are problems with this new arrangement. MWC commissioner Craig Thompson has stated that this latest contract would be the last one giving the Broncos preferential treatment in terms of separate negotiations and disproportionate revenue.
Boise State is still one of the most high-profile and consistent programs in the entire Group of Five, let alone the Mountain West. While other programs such as San Diego State and Fresno State have proven they can compete with Boise State at the top, they lack the same consistency and – more importantly – the appeal of the Broncos.
The American has parity at the top, with the likes of Memphis and UCF competing annually and Cincinnati, Navy, and Temple able to make runs at both conference titles and the New Year’s Six.
AAC members were strong enough as a group to veto their own version of preferential treatment at the negotiation table. It is uncertain whether the Mountain West can bargain without giving Boise State its benefits.
The fact of the matter is the new TV deal is great for the Mountain West in the short term, especially when it comes to potential increased television exposure and media rights revenue.
In the long run, it may have exposed critical rifts among Boise State and the rest of the conference’s members. Time will tell if the new deal strengthens the conference or weakens it by alienating one of its most important members.