By RALPH D. RUSSO
The Big Ten’s new $7 billion media rights deal will stream the conference’s best football games across three major networks each week, creating an NFL-style TV schedule on Saturdays.
The Big Ten announced Thursday that it has reached seven-year agreements with Fox, CBS and NBC to share the rights to conference football and basketball games.
The agreements come into effect in 2023, expire in 2030 and will eventually allow the conference’s 16 member universities to share more than $1 billion a year, bringing the total value of the agreements to more than $7 billion, one person familiar with with the terms told to the Associated Press.
The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Big Ten and network officials were not publicly disclosing financial details, but the deal would be the richest ever on a yearly basis for a college sports property. The sharp increase in conference revenue will not be felt until the third year of the agreement and will increase gradually over the past five years.
“I think what he does, he gives us the opportunity to make sure that we can continually do the things that we need to do to care for our student-athletes, to strengthen our institutions, to build our programs,” said Big Ten commissioner Kevin. Warren told the AP.
The deal sets a new benchmark in the college sports arms race, which is largely driven by television money. The Southeastern Conference has a deal with ESPN that starts in 2024 and is also worth over $7 billion, but over 10 years. This agreement was announced before the conference expanded to 16 schools with the addition of Texas and Oklahoma.
The Big Ten currently has 14 members, stretching from Rutgers and Maryland on the East Coast to Nebraska across the Midwest, and spanning some of the nation’s biggest media markets, including New York, Philadelphia and Chicago.
In 2024, Southern California and UCLA are expected to join the Big Ten, adding the Los Angeles market to its footprint.
Former Fox Sports president Bob Thompson said the addition of teams from the nation’s second-largest media market (5.8 million households) should make the conference even more attractive to television networks.
Additionally, West Coast schools should help increase what the conference can do with its cable network in that part of the country.
“The saving from that alone is quite significant,” Thompson said. “If you get 3 million people all of a sudden getting the Big Ten Network as part of their expanded basic (cable) package, that’s $3 million a month. Compared to what they were getting, which is $3 million a year.
With ESPN out of the equation for Big Ten football after a 40-year relationship, the league is set to lock down three important time slots with its network partners.
Fox, which has shared Big Ten rights with ESPN since 2017 and owns a majority stake in BTN, will continue to feature Noon Eastern Time as its main game of the day.
Fox and its cable network FS1 will have the rights to more than two dozen football games, at least 45 men’s basketball games and women’s basketball games.
CBS, beginning in 2024, will replace the Southeastern Conference Game of the Week at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time — which airs on ABC — with a Big Ten game.
CBS will air 14-15 Big Ten football games per season from 2024-29, including a Black Friday game. Contrary to its longstanding agreement with the SEC, CBS will not be guaranteed the first selection of football games each week with the Big Ten. Fox, CBS and NBC will host a draft for the games, giving each network first-round opportunities in a given week.
In 2023, CBS will air seven Big Ten games while it still has the SEC on CBS at 3:30 p.m. EST. The network will continue to be home to Big Ten men’s basketball, including the conference tournament semifinals and finals, and will begin broadcasting the women’s basketball tournament championship.
“When we did our financial analysis and looked at the major markets – even before USC and UCLA – and the national footprint of the Big Ten, this was a very attractive offer for us,” said Sean McManus, president of CBS Sports. “And I think the money is fair. It is unprecedented. These are the biggest deals in college football history.
Starting in 2023, NBC will launch “Big Ten Saturday Night” in prime time and air 15-16 games per season. The deal with NBC also includes eight football games and dozens of men’s and women’s basketball games per season that will air exclusively on Peacock, the network’s online subscription service. NBC also has a separate, long-standing broadcast deal with Notre Dame, which is still not affiliated with any conference.
Each network will air the Big Ten’s championship football game at least once during the term of the agreements, with Fox securing the rights to four (2023, ’25, ’27 and ’29).
Warren has spent more than two decades working as an executive in the front office of three NFL teams. He said the Big Ten’s vision for its new broadcast deal was modeled after an NFL Sunday, with three consecutive marquee games on three different networks, airing from noon to almost midnight Eastern Time.
“I just thought where we were in the Big Ten, we had a unique opportunity because we have the institutions that could do it,” Warren said. “We have the greed of the fans. We have the scope, we have the historical base, we were able to really do something unique with three powerful brands at Fox, CBS and NBC.
The Big Ten’s alignment with three traditional networks shows that while streaming may be the future, linear TV isn’t dead.
“He may be dying in some ways. You could say things like scripted dramas. Situation comedies. But for sports and news, it’s never been stronger,” Thompson said.
“Conferences or leagues are a bit reluctant to take such a big leap from the big, wide spread of television,” he added. “Now you’re going to move on to the streaming service, which overall the numbers are still relatively low in terms of the number of people watching and using them.”
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