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MAC renews TV deal with ESPN through 2026 season

Photo: Scott Boehm/AP

The Mid-American Conference has agreed to an extension of its television deal that will keep the conference’s football games on ESPN through the 2026 season, according to sources close to the situation. The MAC and ESPN had three years remaining on their current deal but added another 10 years in the new agreement. SI.com first reported the agreement Monday afternoon, and an announcement was made Tuesday morning.

The new TV deal comes less than two weeks after Judge Claudia Wilken’s ruling in the Ed O’Bannon v. NCAA case cleared the way for college football and men’s basketball players to profit from the sale of the name, image and likeness. It also follows the NCAA Board of Directors’ approval of autonomy measures for the Power Five conferences. Though those decisions may seem unrelated, both have the power to significantly tip the scales of major college football towards conferences with the money to capitalize on the new freedoms afforded to the schools and athletes.

“While this is an announcement about a new television deal, it is really much more,” MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said on a conference call Tuesday morning. “Despite so much uncertainty that seems to be swirling about these days this new agreement should be a clear indication that the Mid-American Conference is a strong and vibrant conference and should be nationally relevant. We have secured a long-term meaningful agreement with the best in the business. The Mid-American Conference is placing a stake in the FBS landscape, and we will have teams to be reckoned with across many sports.”

Although the continuation of the MAC’s deal with ESPN in no way rivals the mega-TV deals of SEC, Big Ten and other major conferences, it does favorably position the MAC along with the other peer members of the Group of Five (the American, Conference USA, Mountain West, Sun Belt and MAC), at least until those conferences renegotiate their deals. One source said the MAC's new agreement will be worth around “nine figures” over the length of the deal.

As part of the rights agreement, ESPN will work with the MAC to develop on-campus production, similar to how the SEC Network has worked to establish production capabilities at each of its member schools. ESPN has also worked on a similar model with the ACC.

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“At any conference there are schools who are more advanced than others in the area of broadcast capabilities,” ESPN senior VP of programming and acquisitions Burke Magnus said. “You’ll start seeing some of that rolled out this season in institutions that are more ready than others. Where we sit it’s really a no-lose proposition. The schools that get ready get content on immediately. It deepens the exposure that the conference gets overall. It provides real-life experience for students and professors, and it’s a way to do things more efficiently as the imperative has become in college sports to get as much content produced as possible.”

Steinbrecher estimated that “in excess” of 100 live events would be available in year one of the restructured deal, and there is also some wiggle room with sublicensing agreements to various regional carriers.

The continuation of MAC football on ESPN also ensures the continuation of the strong MACtion brand, born out of the conference’s history of high-scoring mid-week games broadcast nationally as a result of its ESPN deal.

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