Big Spend for the Big Ten? NBC, ESPN, FOX, CBS Among Possible Bidders for Conference’s Media Rights




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sports fans cheering

The Big Ten is looking to shake up college sports by becoming the first conference to eclipse $1 billion per year as it negotiates its next media rights deal, according to “several well-placed business sources” who spoke to Sports Business Journal. The conference’s current 6-year deal with Fox, ESPN, and CBS pays a combined $2.64 billion, or an average of $440 million annually, but is set to expire in 2023. The three networks are expected to be joined by NBC in a bid for the conference’s TV rights, from the SBJ report:

The Big Ten’s media contracts run through 2022-23. It has entered into an exclusive negotiating window with ESPN, but my colleague John Ourand doesn’t expect a deal to get done within this window because there is competing interest from other networks. The conference almost certainly will take its rights to the marketplace to have multiple bidders drive up the price. CBS and NBC are believed to have strong interest.

Geographically, the Big Ten has member schools throughout the midwest and on the east coast consisting of major markets, which increases its value to potential networks. Even if the conference allows its exclusive window with ESPN to expire it doesn’t mean that ESPN wouldn’t attempt to outbid the other networks for rights to the Big Ten games.

Currently, CBS only has media rights for Big Ten basketball games, but the network may be looking to expand to football after losing rights to SEC football. CBS was the home to SEC football for nearly 2 decades, but the conference agreed to a 10-year deal with ESPN/ABC, which begins in 2024. Now, CBS may be looking to pounce on the Big Ten to replace their usual Saturday SEC 3:30 PM ET game.

With a 51% ownership of the Big Ten Network, Fox could be the strongest player and gain the most of the TV rights for the Big Ten. Fox will operate the Big Ten Network until at least 2032, and currently airs half of the Big Ten football package with ESPN. In this round of negotiations, Fox could try to outbid suitors for more media rights and become the exclusive home of the Big Ten.

Of the major broadcast networks, NBC could be the dark horse, according to a report from Front Office Sports. NBC is the home of Notre Dame football, and pairing the Fighting Irish with the heavily-midwestern Big Ten could be the “perfect one-two punch,” according to a source FOS spoke to. The network will have money to spend after losing the NHL to TNT and Disney’s ESPN/ABC.  

FOS spoke to sources about NBC’s interest in the Big Ten and an NBC Sports spokesperson, they said the following:

“If I’m ESPN or Fox, I’m looking over my shoulder because NBC is going to go hard after the Big Ten,” said another source.

“We don’t comment on specific strategies of our company, but we’re always interested in high-quality sports with wide appeal,” an NBC Sports spokesperson told FOS.

Outside of traditional media companies, Apple has been reported to be looking to spend billions on live sports throughout the next 4 years, and a bid for the Big Ten would be a great place to start. The streaming service currently doesn’t offer any live sports but has reportedly been in talks with MLB to broadcast games. If they decide to join the fray for Big Ten media rights then they could outspend many of their competitors.

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