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Big Ten signs biggest media rights deal ever

Also reportedly leaves open the possibility of future expansion.

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2022 Big Ten Conference Football Media Days Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The news everyone knew was imminent finally dropped on Thursday: The Big Ten has signed a lucrative media rights deal worth either $7 billion or $8 billion over seven years — depending on which report you believe — starting in July 2023. and Sports Illustrated are each reporting the lower figure, while The Athletic and Sports Business Journal are each reporting the higher figure. Regardless, even the lower figure sets a new standard in the arms race between the Big Ten and SEC and leaves the other three Power 5 conferences further in the rear view mirror.

As expected, the Big Ten will be partnering with Fox, CBS, and NBC — and not ESPN — for the duration of the deal, which, at seven years, actually is a few years shorter than is typical for these. That’s for a very specific reason: The Big Ten will go to market again before the SEC’s new contract with ESPN is up in 2034.

The headliner of the agreement is that each partner will have a set broadcast window for Big Ten games:

Even without ESPN, the Big Ten’s new set of partners will provide a powerhouse lineup of college football on Saturdays in the fall. It will start with Fox’s “Big Noon Saturday” at noon ET, followed by CBS’ 3:30 p.m. window and NBC’s new “Big Ten Saturday Night” game in prime time.

The Fox-CBS-NBC triumvirate will provide the Big Ten with an NFL-like lineup of games on over-the-air TV.

“The goal was to own each of these windows,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren, the former Vikings COO who used the NFL as a model for the Big Ten’s own rights negotiations. “To capture the hearts and minds and the fan avidity, I think you’ve got to make it very simple for your fans. So, I always had this visual, especially coming out of the NFL, that we’d have partners in each one of those windows. And then we’d have some special events, like two games on Black Friday.”

There also will be games on FS1, Big Ten Network, and NBC’s “Peacock” streaming service.

The Big Ten won’t realize the biggest monetary gains right away, as the big numbers reportedly kick in when USC and UCLA defect from the Pac-12 to join the Big Ten in 2024. That means it’s tough to know exactly how much each school will be making over the course of the deal, but projects the payouts to eventually be between $80 million and $100 million annually.

Additionally: both Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde and Action Network’s Brett McMurphy are that expansion is still very much on the table. Via Forde:

The agreement with Fox, CBS and NBC comes with this caveat from a Big Ten source: “We are not done expanding.” What that means—in terms of timetable, potential expansion targets and the overall stability of college athletics—was left unsaid. It could be posturing to keep the rival Southeastern Conference and others off-balance, or it could be an indication, as Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said in July, that further national realignment could come within the next few years, well before this new deal ends with the 2029–30 athletic calendar.

And via McMurphy:

The contract includes an escalator clause, meaning the deal could approach nearly $10 billion if the Big Ten’s membership increases, network sources said. Even after adding USC and UCLA, the Big Ten “is not done” expanding, sources told Action Network.

The guess here is that there is a provision specifically built for adding Notre Dame + 1, as it’s hard to imagine anyone else moving the needle enough to make that kind of a difference in rights fees. It also makes sense that it’s Notre Dame, because the Big Ten being able to walk over to the Fighting Irish and say “when you join the Big Ten, this is how much money you will get based on the language already in our contract” is a hell of a recruiting pitch.

For what it’s worth, the Sports Business Journal story reports that Apple and Amazon also were involved in pursuing Big Ten rights; could they now be suitors for the Pac-12/10 rights?

Lastly, I’m just going to leave this here.


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