The Big Ten Conference has begun the process of negotiating a new television deal as the league's existing deals with ABC/ESPN and CBS expire at the end of the upcoming 2016/2017 season. The existing deal puts one to two football games each week regionally on ABC (with a reverse mirror on ESPN or ESPN2 to allow for national coverage) and two to three football games on an ESPN cable network - many at 11 am central time. The CBS contract allows for 24 men's and women's basketball games to be televised, including the semifinals and championship game of the Big Ten men's basketball tournament.
This new deal would not dramatically affect the league's existing "third-tier" contract with BTN, the Big Ten's dedicated conference network which is jointly owned by Fox and the league's schools.
According to Sports Business Journal and Awful Announcing, CBS, ESPN, Fox, NBC and Turner Sports are all interested in being part of the Big Ten's next deal. It's widely believed that the next deal will be split - and potentially even more than the existing arrangement. ESPN's position in the marketplace assures that the "Worldwide Leader in Sports" will retain at least some of the rights to the Big Ten. The Big Ten does not want to risk being ignored, much like the NHL has been with that league's exclusive deal with NBC.
Fox's stake in BTN makes them a natural bidder for acquiring part of the Big Ten's television rights, though Fox already has a extensive commitment to televise Big XII and Pac-12 football, plus the rights to Major League Baseball's postseason, including the World Series. Some feel that Fox will take over much of the deal; I doubt that Fox can absorb much without utilizing their poorly rated FS1 and FS2 networks. It's important to note that Creighton's most watched basketball game this season was their NIT game against Alabama last week, which was televised on ESPN instead of the usual FS1:
The power of the four-letter network. Creighton's most viewed game this season. https://t.co/slTbphKaSt— Unsportsmanlike 1620 (@USC1620) March 16, 2016
For comparison sake:
NBATV:— Sports TV Ratings (@SportsTVRatings) January 6, 2016
"@SportsTVRatings: the numbers for Villanova-Creighton (136,000) seem all the more pitiful b/c game was very close"— NPOB Sports ETC (@_NPOB) March 4, 2015
FoxSports1 tsk tsk
Overall, FS1's ratings for basketball are lower than ESPNU's, with a much better slate of teams and games. Hence, if I were Jim Delany, I'd approach Fox very warily. Fox has been a good partner with BTN, but Fox Sports cable channels have a "ratings wasting disease" that the Big Ten really should try to avoid.
NBC is an intriguing option, provided that the Peacock is looking at airing more games on their broadcast network. Currently, NBC only has the rights to Notre Dame home football games, which means that NBC has the ability to put more football games on the air than anybody else. NBCSN, their counterpart cable network, is fairly well saturated during basketball season with a commitment to the NHL, but does offer a few opportunities to fill a niche.
Turner Sports is another intriguing option, as Turner's involvement with college sports has been limited to their joint venture with CBS on the NCAA basketball tournament. Turner's involvement with sports is limited to Major League Baseball on TBS and the NBA on TNT, making Turner an intriguing option for the Big Ten as well.
It appears that CBS is not interested in expanding their relationship with the Big Ten, though they still want to retain the rights to the Big Ten basketball tournament. That's too bad, as I had hoped that either CBS or NBC would pursue a weekly prime-time Saturday night football series.
What would I like to see in the next Big Ten television deal? Simple: At least one to two football games each week on ESPN/ABC, and a weekly primetime package on NBC, Turner or Fox. (I don't believe that Fox can accommodate that option, though.) The deal should minimize the number of 11 am football games after conference play begins, and if NBC or Turner Sports are involved, investigate the possibility of utilizing staggered non-traditional starting times.
I suspect big money will be there, no matter who bids the most...so it might be more important from a branding arrangement and for a perception to have the broadest and best broadcast package for the Big Ten.