PROVO — Saying he feels “really good about it” and has for quite some time, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe announced Thursday that the college football independent’s home football games will be televised by the ESPN network through 2026, barring a move by BYU to a conference with a different television broadcast partner.
Financial terms of the seven-year agreement were not disclosed.
“It is what we expected it to be. It is what they expected it to be,” Holmoe said in a roundtable discussion with reporters after the announcement was made Thursday morning. “There weren’t a lot of wranglings. But it came out to where we feel we are able to progress these next number of years to do the things we need to do with ESPN and with our program.”
BYU also announced it has reached an agreement with ESPN Events — a division of ESPN — for the Cougars to play in ESPN-owned and operated bowl games in 2020, 2022 and 2024 if they are bowl eligible (six wins). Holmoe said which bowl game in this season (2020) the Cougars will play in will depend on how the season goes.
“So I would say, depending on how we start out, and how we play (is who we will talk to),” he said. “For example, last year, when we started out with a couple big wins (over Tennessee and USC), and moved up the ladder, we had some conversations about ‘what if’ we keep playing this way? So those conversations started in September. So I would imagine, how we start this season would depend on how those conversations will go.”
Under a separate agreement, the Cougars announced they will play in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 2021, 2023 and 2025. The Cougars have never appeared in that bowl game.
Why the Independence Bowl?
Holmoe said he has fielded calls about BYU’s interest from various “new” start-up bowls over the years, and many existing bowls, and has always told them “we are with ESPN. You can talk to ESPN.” But after speaking with Independence Bowl Executive Director Missy Setters and ESPN, he believed it was in BYU’s best interest to “create this unique opportunity for our football program and our fans throughout the South.”
The Cougars will appear in Shreveport in 2021 and 2025 against an opponent from Conference USA and in 2023 against a team from the Pac-12. However, there is an option as part of both BYU bowl agreements that the Cougars could potentially play in the Cheez-It Bowl in Arizona if its conference tie-ins (Big 12 and Big Ten) are not able to provide an opponent. The Cheez-It Bowl airs on an ESPN network.
“I feel good about being able to play down there three years, but we are thinking it will probably be two in the Independence Bowl, and at least one in Arizona,” Holmoe said. “I think people will get used to it as we talk about it in the next years to come.”
Holmoe said both the bowl agreements and the media rights agreement are “vital” to the football program’s long-term success, financially and on the field.
“You can’t do (independence) without them,” he said. “There is no way. And people say maybe could you have gone with another broadcast company? Yeah, sure. People are able to do amazing things now in broadcasts. But we wanted to do it with ESPN.
“ESPN is ‘The’ sports leader,” Holmoe said. “I believed it years ago, and I believe it now. I think it is going to be (that way) moving forward as well.”
According to a BYU news release, Under the new deal, ESPN will televise a minimum of four BYU home games each season. At least three will be on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC. The fourth can be on ESPNU. All four will be available on the ESPN app. At least one game will be live on BYUtv.
The original TV deal between the two sides was signed in 2010 and expired after the 2019 campaign after a one-year option was exercised. During the last nine seasons, the Cougars have played 86 games on ABC/ESPN networks.
Said ESPN senior vice president of programming and events Pete Derzis in a statement: “BYU is a key component of our extensive college football media rights portfolio and we are pleased to continue the relationship well into the future. The new agreement will build upon our last nine seasons, as we collectively work together showcasing the Cougars to a national audience and their extensive fan base.”
There were some fears among BYU faithful that some of the games would be put on ESPN’s pay subscription service, ESPN Plus. That won’t happen for home games, which are the only games the agreement entails, Holmoe said.
“Some of our fans get frustrated sometimes and disappointed when we go on the road to play. But we use contracts and the broadcast rights agreements those schools have.”
Why did it take so long?
Holmoe said talks have been ongoing for several years and the broadcast rights agreement was mostly finalized months ago, but the bowl deals took a bit longer.
“There is no way I would have done it differently,” he said. “And I think one of the things that caused a little bit of a delay is we wanted those two contracts to be signed simultaneously. We didn’t want to sign one without working out the details of the other and vice versa. The bowl games were actually quite a bit more than the rights agreement.”
One of the drawbacks to the ESPN deal is the late kickoff times, generally 8:15 p.m. on Saturdays, Holmoe acknowledged. He said there’s no language in the new contract that would cause anyone to believe that will change. He said on certain games against big-name opponents, such as against USC last year, BYU has some control over the kickoff times.
“But we are very much aware that this ESPN contract is important, and one of the reasons they like it is because we have a window, being in the Mountain time zone, that is super unique. ... And it is a blessing to us to have that so they use it, and we understand it, and for that matter, we are going to play some games at 8 o’clock at night.”
Part of BYU's Independence Bowl agreement, from BYU release: The Cougars are slated to appear in Shreveport in 2021 and 2025 versus an opponent from Conference USA and in 2023 versus a team from the Pac-12.— Jay Drew (@drewjay) January 30, 2020
More: As part of BYU bowl agreements, Cougars have an option to participate in the Cheez-It Bowl in Ariz should its conference tie-ins (Big Ten and Big 12) be unable to provide an opponent. That option can be exercised in lieu of 1 Independence Bowl and one ESPN Events bowl game.— Jay Drew (@drewjay) January 30, 2020
Best part of BYU-ESPN agreement, for BYU fans: No mention anywhere of games put on ESPN+ -- ESPN's subscription service.— Jay Drew (@drewjay) January 30, 2020