Why are pro sports leagues and college sports’ conferences expansion plans so contingent on when media deals expire?

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Why are pro sports leagues and college sports’ conferences expansion plans so contingent on when media deals expire?

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Because a massive part of the revenue generated by these leagues comes from media deals.

Expansion means extra games, extra games means a change to the TV schedule in order to fit the extra games in, along with an expectation the media deals will be worth more due to the additional advertising revenue.

So for example, the current deal may be with a cable company to broadcast 100 games a season. If new teams comes in mid-deal, their may be an additional 15 games that are able to broadcast which are not covered under the current deal, so they miss out on all of the additional revenue these extra games may generate.

Deals get divided among teams, so an expansion during a deal would reduce each teams’ percentages. Better to negotiate a deal with knowledge of new teams involved to get more money so teams don’t get less revenue than expected.

Typically, a team will cede their media rights to their league/conference for a given amount of time. Just because the team changes conferences doesn’t mean the media rights do.

As a result, there’s no reason to pick up a team until their rights are about to expire, because the earnings from that team are going to go to a different league/conference until the rights can be renegotiated.

The important term is grant of rights. In the case of college football, the schools extend their tv grant of rights to the conference. This means the conference controls that teams tv rights to their games. Even if that team leaves the conference, the tv rights stay until the grant of rights expires. Grant of rights are going to be tied to the tv deal the conference signs. The conferences split tv money from that deal among their conference members. If a school leaves before the grant of rights expires, they effectively would make no tv money from their own televised games.