MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher says deal with ESPN brings stability to conference

By Ralph D. Russo | Associated Press Published:

Mid-American Conference Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher says the league's new 13-year media rights agreement with ESPN provides long-term stability to the conference at uncertain time for college athletics.

The MAC and ESPN officially announced the new deal, which runs through the 2026-27 season, on Tuesday. The contract reworks the final three years of the current eight-year deal that MAC has with the network, and adds 10 years.

The deal ensures a continuation of the weeknight football games in November that have become the conference's niche -- and gave birth to the Twitter hashtag #MACtion.

The agreement gives ESPN exclusive rights to all MAC sporting events, and guarantees coverage of all football games on one of the ESPN television networks or its online network, ESPN3. There is also a sublicensing agreement in the deal that will allow ESPN to sell rights to MAC sporting events to other networks.

"This new ESPN deal was secured through the efforts of Commissioner Steinbrecher and the MAC staff," said Kent State athletic director Joel Nielsen. "They presented compelling reasons to open negotiations prior to the conclusion of the current agreement, and that forward-thinking approach will provide each institution with significant financial resources to apply to our programs for the next 13 years.

"The MAC 'brand' is as strong as ever, especially with some recent successes, including Kent State's College World Series appearance (2012), and our two NCAA national champion individuals (Dustin Kilgore, 2011 wrestling; Matthias Tayala, 2014 men's track and field)."

Financial terms were not revealed, though Steinbrecher said the deal puts the MAC in a competitive position with its peer FBS conferences -- the American Athletic Conference, Mountain West, Sun Belt and Conference USA.

The American Athletic Conference has the most lucrative media rights deal of those leagues, a seven-year agreement worth about $130 million.

"We're in a totally different area code from where we've been in the past," Steinbrecher said.

The MAC's previous deal paid the conference about $1 million per season.

"They deserve it. They've earned," Burke Magnus, the ESPN vice president of programming and acquisitions, said of the raise.

The MAC has been on a good run.

Northern Illinois earned the conference its first BCS bid in 2012, and made another BCS run behind Heisman Trophy finalists Jordan Lynch last season. Lynch finished third in Heisman voting, the best finish by a MAC player.

Kent State made the college World Series in 2012 and Ohio reached the Sweet 16 of the men's basketball tournament that year. In 2010, Akron won the men's soccer championship and Toledo women's basketball won the WNIT.

The conference also had three individual athletes win titles at the most recent NCAA track and field championships.

"As part of the new arrangement, the MAC and ESPN will establish campus-originated productions that bring additional MAC events such as basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, volleyball, wrestling and many Olympic sports to ESPN's digital distribution along ESPN3," said Nielsen. "That will open our conference up to nearly 92 million households, providing additional exposure and visibility for many of Kent State's nationally competitive programs.

"Plus, we intend to utilize our nationally recognized College of Communication and Information (CCI) and their students to produce these contests. It's a great way to integrate our students and faculty into the athletic program."

The extra revenue comes at a good time for the MAC.

The NCAA is in the process of giving the five wealthiest FBS conferences the ability to pass legislation on their own. The move will almost certainly lead to an increase in the value of athletic scholarships in those conferences to cover full cost of attendance. Steinbrecher has said MAC schools are preparing to follow suit. Also, the recent ruling in the O'Bannon federal court case could lead to schools compensating football and men's basketball players for use of their names, images and likenesses.

"We've been forecasting a little bit of where the world was going for a couple years now," Steinbrecher said. "That was why it was critical for us to figure out a way to bring this together. This is certainly one piece to in positioning our membership to move forward in whatever this new world of collegiate athletics looks like."

Note: R-C staff writer Allen Moff contributed to this story

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