Sources: Big 12 exploring naming-rights deal for conference worth hundreds of millions

The Big 12 conference is exploring a naming-rights partnership that may be one of the most lucrative and unique sponsorship deals in college athletics history.

In meetings with league administrators two weeks ago in Dallas, Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark formally introduced a concept to sell the naming rights of the conference in a deal that would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, multiple sources tell Yahoo Sports.

Under the proposal, the conference’s name would undergo a significant alteration, prominently incorporating a sponsor’s name in the title — a common trend among bowl games, such the Capital One Orange Bowl and the Reliaquest Bowl, formerly the Outback Bowl.

The latest conversations within the conference have centered on retaining "12" in the "Big 12" name and removing "Big." The corporate sponsor name would replace "Big" — a significant change but one expected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars

No major conference in recent college sports history has sold the exclusive rights to its name. Several corporations are expected to be involved in the process for the naming rights, most notably the Allstate insurance company. A possible new name of the league has emerged as “Allstate 12,” sources tell Yahoo Sports.

A final determination has not been made, and any agreement must gain the necessary support from the Big 12 presidents and chancellors. A Big 12 spokesperson declined to comment when reached Thursday.

The concept is a months-long endeavor spearheaded by Yormark, a former New York entertainment and talent executive who is completing his second year as conference commissioner.

In a news conference on May 31, Yormark told reporters that he has been “vetting out big ideas” with his presidents and athletic directors that would grow league revenue, but declined to reveal specifics.

“I take it as a personal goal to make sure that I can best resource our schools for this next chapter,” Yormark said.

A possible naming-rights deal isn’t the only “big idea.” The league is exploring private equity agreements to generate millions in immediate funds for its member schools, multiple sources confirmed to Yahoo Sports.

Yormark has spoken in support of private equity in the past, including just last month.

“Private equity has been out there in the news and people are thinking about it,” he said. “In some respects, private equity is a validation of where this industry is going and the growth. I don’t look at it as a bad thing.”

The naming-rights deal, expected to generate multiple millions per school annually, comes at a time when college athletic departments are seeking untapped revenue streams ahead of the implementation of a new revenue-sharing model. Starting in the fall of 2025, power conference schools are permitted to share millions with their athletes, potentially as much as $22 million, in a capped compensation model that is part of the consolidation of three antitrust cases.

The concept — paying players directly — has schools more willing to dip into commercialization than ever as they seek to increase revenues to offset the additional costs. In fact, an NCAA committee is permitting schools to display corporate logos on football fields.

Some schools are examining private equity or private capital plans as well, and many are hoping, eventually, to display corporate sponsor patches on the jerseys of their athletes.

“I look at this as a bit of a reset for the industry,” Yormark said about the settlement-related new model. “We've been discussing that reset for quite some time. We are well prepared for it. We as a conference continue to need to be bold and creative given the next chapter of college athletics.”

Naming rights is another lucrative way to grow revenue at a time when expenses are soaring.

Across the country, schools are searching for more revenue streams in a transformative time within the industry. Among the four power conferences, those in the ACC and Big 12 are faced with a more difficult financial climb. The Big Ten and SEC, outdistancing the other two, are creating a chasm through increased television dollars, the College Football Playoff distribution structure and other means. Projections show that schools in the two football goliaths will earn at least $20 million more within the next three to four years.

At a time when expenses are soaring — ballooning coaching salaries, direct athlete compensation, etc. — the revenue gap has even spooked some into attempting to exit their own conference. Florida State and Clemson have filed lawsuits with an intent to eventually leave the ACC.

The Big 12, however, seems to have more stability, benefitting from its league leaders’ aggressive play to poach four Pac-12 schools. Though it diminished distributions to current Big 12 members, the expansion positioned the conference for a more professionalized future.