Big Ten and Sporting Events and College Sports and Sports Business

Big Ten seeking $20 million in TV money for football title game

August 17, 2010

Big Ten Conference officials hope to net a multiyear, multimillion-dollar television deal from the conference’s football championship game.

The inaugural Big Ten Championships will be held in 2011 at Lucas Oil Stadium, and Big Ten officials think they can get $15 million to $20 million annually in TV money from the game.

Sources close to negotiations said ESPN/ABC, which has the current rights to the Big Ten’s regular football season, and Fox are the frontrunners to secure TV rights for the championship game.

Big Ten officials said they have already had discussions with ESPN, Fox and CBS for the game. Sources said NBC and Turner Broadcasting also have interest.

“Such intense interest could push the price up,” said David Morton, president of Indianapolis-based marketing firm Sunrise Sports Group.

Bidding is expected to begin in earnest in October after Big Ten officials decide on two six-school divisions. The deal, sources said, should be finalized by January.

If the Big Ten follows through with its plan, it will be one of the first conferences to ink a separate TV deal for its football championship game. Other conferences, such as the Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference, wrap the championship game into their regular-season deal. Sources said, if broken out, the SEC title game would have a value of more than $10 million.

Due to the Big Ten’s revenue-sharing plan, the windfall could bring athletic departments at member schools, including Indiana and Purdue universities, an annual payday near $1.5 million, whether or not they play in the game.

And that’s not all. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany is expected to ask ESPN for more money to televise regular-season games when Nebraska joins the conference next year. ESPN already pays the Big Ten $100 million annually in accordance with terms of a 10-year deal it signed with the conference in 2007.

But Delany told reporters at this month’s media day the current price doesn’t include the addition of a 12th team, and that he expects that price tag to increase—especially when considering Nebraska’s strong following.

While $20 million seems high for a conference football championship game, the Big Ten may have the following to command it, Morton said.

The SEC title game has set the standard for TV ratings, earning an 11.1 last year and netting 18 million viewers for CBS, according to New York-based Nielsen Media Research.

The Big Ten championship game is expected to air in prime time. One source close to the conference said it likely will air directly after the SEC title game. The Big Ten championship game could fill the time slot previously occupied by the Big 12 championship game, which kicked off at 8 p.m.

Starting next season, the Big 12 will no longer play a championship game because it does not have enough teams—under NCAA rules—after the defection of Nebraska to the Big Ten. Last year’s Big 12 game scored 12.7 million viewers for ABC, according to Nielsen.

Morton thinks the Big Ten will draw more viewers than the Big 12 or SEC title games.

“Eighteen million viewers is a very, very strong number for the SEC,” Morton said. “Still, the Big Ten has much larger markets in the Midwest than the SEC does in the Southeast. And we know people in the Midwest love college athletics.

“Even if the SEC has better teams right now, they just can’t match the markets of Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus (Ohio), Chicago, Cincinnati and Indianapolis. The Big Ten markets have far more homes, which means more eyeballs watching. And that means more dollars for the Big Ten.”

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