Big Ten lands multibillion-dollar TV deal, the richest in college sports

The Big Ten Conference has finalized a monumental set of media rights agreements, expected to be worth more than $1 billion annually, with Fox, CBS and NBC—and notably without ESPN. The Big Ten’s new deals will make it the wealthiest conference in college sports, just weeks after the conference announced it would add University of Southern California and UCLA from the Pacific-12.

The new deals, which begin in 2023 and were announced Thursday morning, will give the conference an NFL-like schedule spread across three broadcast networks on college football Saturdays with set windows for each—noon on Fox; 3:30 p.m. on CBS; and primetime on NBC. It is the first time in four decades that the conference will not have a formal partnership with ESPN.

The additions of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten, which will give the conference a footprint in the lucrative Los Angeles TV market, boosted the value of the agreements as the multibillion-dollar industry of college sports navigates a rapidly changing landscape. Beginning in the 2024 season, the Big Ten, once synonymous with the Midwest, will have 16 teams spread from New Jersey to California. It is a national conference in a sport once prized for its regional appeal.

“What expansion did for us, and for our fans, it really shrunk the United States, shrunk our country,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in an interview, “to where people recognize they’ll be able to watch our teams compete and their schools compete morning, noon and night and at unique times during the year, like on Black Friday, and from coast to coast. That’ll be really exciting.”

Other Big Ten sports, including men’s and women’s basketball, will air across Fox (and FS1), CBS and NBC, along with the Big Ten Network, of which Fox owns 61 percent equity, and Peacock, NBC’s streaming service. The deals run through the 2029-30 season.

Even in a more fragmented media environment, ESPN remains the country’s dominant sports network. Its daily talk lineup drives sports conversation of the day and it retains the rights to the College Football Playoff. ESPN, for decades, was key to putting the Big Ten on TV across the country.

“We’re a key component of college athletics, and especially college football,” Warren said. “I think everyone recognizes that it’s important that we all work together and all have a collaborative voice. I’m confident, where we stand in the Big Ten, we’ll be able to have a voice in shaping the future of college athletics both on and off the playing field.”

Fox and FS1 will continue to show a large chunk of the conference’s football games: 24 to 27 games in 2023, then 30 to 32 games in the following years.

In 2023, CBS will broadcast seven football games. The network is still tied to the SEC through a contract that requires the conference’s top game to be exclusively aired by CBS at 3:30 p.m. Starting in 2024, the Big Ten will occupy that afternoon window all season long, and CBS will broadcast 14 or 15 games each year, including one in the afternoon on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

NBC will broadcast 14 to 16 football games each season, introducing programming described as “Big Ten Saturday Night,” an effort to mirror the success the network has had with “Sunday Night Football.”

Those three major networks will share the rights to broadcast the Big Ten football title game with Fox televising the game in 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029, and CBS (2024, 2028) and NBC (2026) broadcasting the marquee event in the other years.

Fox also has the rights to 45 men’s basketball games each season and can broadcast select women’s basketball games and Olympic-sport competitions.

CBS will televise 9 to 11 men’s basketball games in 2023-24, then increase to 15 games, including 13 conference matchups, in the remaining years of the deal. The network will also broadcast the championship game of both the men’s and women’s basketball conference tournaments, along with the men’s semifinals.

NBC’s Big Ten inventory only includes football, but Peacock, the network’s direct-to-consumer streaming service, will carry dozens of contests in other sports. The platform is slated to have eight football games. Peacock will televise 32 men’s basketball games, including 20 conference games, in the 2023-24 season, then increase to up 47 men’s basketball games (32 conference games) in the years that follow. Peacock will also broadcast the opening night pair of games in the men’s basketball conference tournament.

Peacock will carry 30 women’s basketball games, including 20 conference games, and the opening night doubleheader of the women’s basketball conference tournament. The platform can also air up to 40 live events per year for Olympic sports.

BTN will carry 38 to 41 football games in 2023, then up to 50 games from 2024 to 2029. The network will broadcast at least 126 men’s basketball games and at least 49 women’s basketball games. During the men’s basketball conference tournament, four games on Thursday and four quarterfinals will be shown on BTN. For the women’s tournament, BTN will have four games on Thursday, four quarterfinals and two semifinals. BTN will continue to be the conference’s primary home for Olympic sports programming.

Warren, the conference’s commissioner since 2020, said this summer that he’s been thinking about Big Ten expansion since he interviewed for the job. So when the conference welcomed UCLA and USC this summer, the jolt in the college sports landscape didn’t rattle the negotiations. He built the idea of expansion, just not the specific schools, into the earliest term sheets discussed with networks, he said.

“We’re a historical conference,” Warren said. “I think people recognize that we try to make sure that we honor our tradition but also be smart and prudent about forward-thinking cutting-edge ideas.”

The rights fees illustrate the staggering amount of money filling the coffers of college sports programs, an evolution that can be traced through the Big Ten and its television history. In 1996, the conference landed a 10-year, $100 million contract with ESPN that put nearly all of its conference games on the network and was the first of its kind. In 2007, the conference launched the Big Ten Network in partnership with Fox in a deal that netted the conference $2.8 billion over 20 years. The Pac-12, ACC and SEC all have all followed the Big Ten and launched their own branded networks, with varying success.

The Big Ten and SEC remain far ahead in terms of revenues of rival conferences. The SEC signed a deal with ESPN worth $3 billion over 10 years, according to Sports Business Journal, for its top Saturday game that begins in 2024. (Other parts of that deal bring the value of the SEC’s media rights to around $700 million each year.)

The Big Ten is just the latest sports property to collect a windfall in recent years, proving again the value of live sports to media companies, both traditional and new. The NFL signed a deal with the four broadcast networks and Amazon last year that will pay it around $100 billion over a decade. Major League Baseball’s new deal with Fox Sports is worth more than $5 billion a year. Last year, the English Premier League doubled the annual value of its American rights fee when it re-signed with NBC for $2.7 billion over six years.

Live sports continue to be key to maintaining cable customers, while streaming platforms hope to use them to recruit new subscribers. (The Big Ten had conversations with Amazon, as well.)

In the evolving world of college athletes’ rights, Warren said, he is open to having a conversation with players about potential revenue-sharing models from the new deals. “I think all of these open issues have to be put on the table to discuss legitimately,” he said.

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