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SBJ: Big Ten Renewing TV Deal with Fox; Other Networks Still To Be Determined

With ABC/ESPN needing to clear room for the SEC, there’s going to be a new network involved with televising the Big Ten after this upcoming season.

University of Wisconsin vs Ohio State University, 2017 Big 10 Championship Set Number: X161563 TK1

The Big Ten is in the middle of negotiating their next television deal which will begin in the fall of 2023, and John Ourand of Sports Business Journal reports that Fox is already in an agreement with the Big Ten to continue televising Big Ten football games. What makes these negotiations interesting is that (a) the Big Ten has already agreed to grant all of their broadcast rights to BTN, and (b) Fox quietly acquired an additional 10% ownership in BTN from the conference schools over the last year.

Since Fox controls BTN, which in turn controls all of the Big Ten’s rights, it’s made for unique negotiations because the other networks are having to make their pitch to Fox along with the Big Ten. Who are those other networks? It’s the usual cast of alphabet soup: ABC/ESPN, CBS and NBC along with Turner as well as Amazon and Apple, reportedly.

Ourand says that Fox is positioning themselves as the Big Ten’s primary television rights holder and will continue to have the rights to at least 27 football games each season...maybe more, depending on how the negotiations go. Would Fox like to be the exclusive home of the Big Ten? Maybe, but due to Fox’s commitment to other conferences (Big XII and Pac-12 in football plus the Big East in basketball), they don’t have the timeslots to do it all. In fact, the matrix of who broadcasts what makes this an interesting discussion.

Let’s start with the major conferences:

  • ACC - Committed to ABC/ESPN through 2036 at $17 million per school
  • Big Ten - 50/50 split of top tier rights between Fox and ESPN/ABC through 2022-23 at $31.4 million per school
  • Big XII - 50/50 split of rights between Fox and ESPN/ABC through 2025 at $20 million per school. (The rights to Oklahoma and Texas are locked in through 2025 as well.)
  • Pac-12 - 50/50 split of top tier rights between Fox and ESPN/ABC through 2024 at $21 million per school.
  • SEC - Starting with the 2024 football season, committed to ABC/ESPN through 2034 at $44 million per school. This number will likely change once Oklahoma and Texas join.

So who has room in their schedule for games?

  • ABC/ESPN - Fully committed across ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNews and ESPNU. Existing Big Ten rights expire in summer 2023, and adding additional SEC games (from CBS) starting in the fall of 2024.
  • CBS - Losing SEC after the 2024 season. Only other rights are mostly cable rights on CBSSN to the Mountain West and Big East basketball.
  • Fox - Fully committed across Fox and FS1. FS2 has limited distribution, resulting in overflow games being pushed to Fox Business and even Fox News.
  • NBC - Notre Dame home games through 2025 at $15 million per year. With the shutdown of NBCSN, many sports now air on CNBC and USA.
  • Turner - No college sports on TBS, TNT or TruTV other than the men’s NCAA basketball tournament.

This makes for some interesting negotiations, because starting with the 2024 season, it seems impossible for ABC/ESPN to add the SEC games and keep all of their Big Ten inventory as well... unless more conferences wouldn’t mind more of their games on ESPNews, ESPNU ... or even ESPN+. It’s probably a safe assumption that unless ESPN sells off some of their rights to the Big XII or Pac-12, ESPN/ABC can only handle about half of their current Big Ten allotment of games.

Likewise, Fox can’t accommodate more Big Ten games unless they cast off other rights. So who has room? CBS and NBC, primarily. Turner, possibly. And then there are the upstarts of Amazon and Apple. Many people are intrigued that Amazon and Apple could be big players here, as Amazon is taking over Thursday Night Football and Apple now has Friday Night Baseball. Which could be...but these two streaming services are picking up the packages the other networks didn’t want. ABC/ESPN, CBS, Fox and NBC all passed on Thursday Night Football, while Apple’s deal came about after ESPN declined to continue carrying Major League Baseball outside of holidays and Sunday nights. So I see the streamers as picking up the packages nobody else really wants, and that absolutely doesn’t fit the Big Ten.

It’ll all come down to money, in all likelihood...but here’s what I think would be the ideal arrangement for the next Big Ten TV deal:

  • 11 am - Fox B1G Noon Saturday Note the title change, as Fox’s premier timeslot becomes exclusively dedicated to the Big Ten.
  • 2:30 pm - CBS Big Ten (might be somewhat weird for 2023’s final year of the CBS/SEC deal). CBS would also commit to expanding their Big Ten basketball lineup.
  • FS1 - One game each week
  • ABC/ESPN - One game each week, with a minimum of three games on ABC Saturday Night Football, if only to prevent that platform from becoming SEC Saturday Night.
  • Apple/Amazon - Taking over BTN+ and leveraging the platform for football games that would otherwise be regional on BTN or relegated to ESPNews or ESPNU.
  • BTN - Averaging two games each week, with non-traditional timeslots of Noon and 4 pm. This ensures that if the Big Ten 11 am and 2:30 pm games end early, there’s another B1G game in the second half for fans to flip to. Yes, this means FEWER 11 am games and thus more time for fans to tailgate.

(Note: all of the above times are central time, as God himself intended. If you don’t live in the central time zone, adjust accordingly.)

One of the great branding decisions the SEC made was ensuring that their top game was on CBS at mid afternoon. No looking at the TV guide, you just know where to go to see the big game. This plan doubles it: Fox has the 11 am game and then you flip to CBS for the next game. They alternate weeks as to which network has the top game; it’s almost NFL-like precision between the two channels.

That 2023 season could be weird, as ABC/ESPN might be willing to commit to a one year arrangement for Big Ten games while they have the timeslot open. Or ABC/ESPN might strike a deal with CBS for the Tiffany Network’s final year with the ESSEEEECee.

As long as CBS keeps THAT theme song for the Big Ten, of course.

Damn, that just sounds perfect leading into a Nebraska game.