John Ourand of Sports Business Journal looked at the landscape of sports broadcasting with an eye on the Big Ten Conference's next television deal, which is expected to begin negotiations next spring. His forecast? A split package between ESPN and Fox, with Fox likely taking the larger share of games.
NBC and CBS have also expressed some interest, though Ourand doesn't consider them serious bidders. CBS hasn't been terribly aggressive about acquiring new rights in recent years, outside of the NFL's Thursday Night package. With the NCAA basketball tournament, CBS partnered with Turner Sports to split the rights to a package that they had previously controlled for over three decades. NBC, on the other hand, was discounted because the network has focused on packages they control completely: the NHL, Olympics and soccer. (Of course, NBC also has the Sunday Night NFL package along with half of the NASCAR schedule, which would seem to contradict that strategy.)
I continue to question whether Fox has the capacity to handle the lions share of the Big Ten football telecasts. The Fox broadcast network already televises one or two college games each week from the Big XII and Pac-12; adding a single Big Ten football game to the schedule would completely fill the Fox broadcast schedule most weeks. FS1 also is pretty full on Saturdays with a schedule of Big XII, Pac-12 and Conference USA games. Fox also has the rights to the Major League Baseball playoffs, which would eliminate a timeslot each week in October.
Under the current contract, ESPN typically carries two or three football games each week on one of it's networks, with another game on ABC. If the ESPN/ABC contract resulted in having rights to fewer games, that would almost assure that the Big Ten would have fewer night games moving forward. Fox's primetime schedule is pretty full with Big XII and Pac-12 games, and while some of those games could slide over to ABC to fill the openings lost from the Big Ten, I suspect that we'll see fewer, not more, primetime games if Fox is the dominant carrier of the Big Ten.
Basketball could also be affected; currently the Big Ten has a deal with CBS for basketball games in the spring, including the final two rounds of the Big Ten tournament. Would CBS want to give up one of their marquee preliminary events for March Madness? Somehow, I expect not.
What would I like to see? I'd like to see the current ABC/ESPN television contract split up two or three ways, with an attempt to have a prime-time football game each and every week. The only network that I believe can offer that is CBS, and CBS has shown themselves to be interested in partnering to acquire the rights to Thursday Night Football as well as the NCAA Tournament. Split the remaining package with Fox and ESPN, with the goal being to move as many games out of the 11 am timeslot to more desirable afternoon spots.
I don't know how practical that is, but if the money is close, access to games should be a primary consideration for the Big Ten moving forward.