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The Big Ten conference struck a monumental series of media rights deals with Fox, CBS and NBC — and notably excluding ESPN — that are expected to be worth more than $1 billion a year. The Big Ten’s new deals will make it the wealthiest conference in collegiate sports, just weeks after the conference announced it would add the University of Southern California and UCLA from the Pacific-12.
The new arrangements, beginning in 2023 and announced Thursday morning, will give the conference an NFL-like schedule spread across three broadcast networks on college football Saturdays, with set slots for each – noon on Fox; 3:30 p.m. on CBS; and prime time on NBC. It’s the first time in four decades that the conference hasn’t had a formal partnership with ESPN.
The addition of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten, which will give the conference a footprint in Los Angeles’ lucrative television market, added value to the agreements as the multibillion-dollar college sports industry 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’s a national conference in a sport once prized for its regional appeal.
“What the expansion has done for us and for our fans has really shrunk the United States, shrunk our country,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in an interview, “to the point where people are realizing that You can watch our teams compete Morning, noon and night and at unique times of the year like Black Friday, your schools compete from coast to coast. That will be really exciting.”
Other Big Ten sports, including men’s and women’s basketball, are broadcast across Fox (and FS1), CBS and NBC, along with the Big Ten Network, in which Fox owns 61 percent ownership, and Peacock, the streaming service from NBC. The offers run throughout the 2029/30 season.
Even in a more fragmented media environment, ESPN remains the country’s dominant sports network. His daily talk lineup drives the day’s sports talk and reserves the rights to the College Football Playoffs. For decades, ESPN has been key to bringing the Big Ten to national television.
“We’re a key component of collegiate athletics and college football in particular,” Warren said. “I think everyone realizes that it’s important that we all work together and that we all have a common voice. I am confident where we are in the Big Ten that we will be able to help shape the future of collegiate athletics on and off the field.”
Fox and FS1 will continue to show a large portion of the conference’s football games: 24-27 games in 2023, then 30-32 games in subsequent years.
In 2023, CBS will broadcast seven football games. The network is still bound by a contract with the SEC that dictates that the top game of the conference be broadcast exclusively by CBS at 3:30 p.m. Beginning in 2024, the Big Ten will occupy that afternoon slot all season, and CBS will air 14 or 15 games a year, including one on the Friday afternoon after Thanksgiving.
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NBC will broadcast 14 to 16 football games each season and will introduce a program dubbed “Big Ten Saturday Night” to reflect the channel’s success with Sunday Night Football.
These three major networks 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) televising the marquee event transferred to the other years .
Fox also has the rights to 45 men’s basketball games each season and may broadcast select women’s basketball games and Olympic sports events.
CBS will televise 9 to 11 men’s basketball games in 2023-24, increasing to 15 games, including 13 conference matchups, over the remaining years of the contract. The network will also broadcast the championship game of the men’s and women’s basketball conference tournaments and the men’s semifinals.
NBC’s Big Ten inventory includes only football, but Peacock, the network’s direct-to-consumer streaming service, will broadcast dozens of competitions in other sports. The platform is said to have eight football games. Peacock will televise 32 men’s basketball games, including 20 conference games, in the 2023-24 season, increasing to as many as 47 men’s basketball games (32 conference games) in subsequent years. Peacock will also broadcast the opening two games of the Men’s Basketball Conference Tournament.
Peacock will broadcast 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 broadcast up to 40 live events per year for Olympic sports.
BTN will broadcast 38-41 football games in 2023, and then up to 50 games in 2024-2029. 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 and four quarterfinals will be shown on BTN on Thursday. In the women’s tournament on Thursday, BTN has four games, four quarterfinals and two semifinals. BTN will continue to be the primary home of the conference for Olympic sports programming.
Warren, the conference chair since 2020, said this summer that he’s been thinking about expanding the Big Ten since his interview. When the conference welcomed UCLA and USC this summer, the jolt in the collegiate sports landscape didn’t shake the negotiations. He built the idea of expansion, just not specific schools, into the earliest semester papers discussed with networks, he said.
“We’re a historic conference,” Warren said. “I think people realize that we’re trying to make sure we’re honoring our heritage, but also being smart and thoughtful about forward-thinking, innovative ideas.”
The rights fees illustrate the staggering amounts of money pouring into the coffers of collegiate sports programming, a development that can be traced through the Big Ten and its television history. In 1996, the conference struck a 10-year, $100 million deal with ESPN that brought nearly all of their conference games to 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. Pac-12, ACC and SEC have all followed the Big Ten and launched their own branded networks with varying degrees of success.
The Big Ten and SEC remain far ahead in terms of revenue from competing conferences. The SEC signed a $3 billion, 10-year deal with ESPN for their premier Saturday game, beginning in 2024, according to Sports Business Journal.)
The Big Ten is just the latest sports property to garner a fortune in recent years, once again proving the value of live sports for traditional and new media companies alike. The NFL last year signed a deal with the four broadcasters and Amazon that will see it earn about $100 billion over a decade. Major League Baseball’s new deal with Fox Sports is valued at 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 remain key to retaining cable subscribers, while streaming platforms hope to use them to attract new subscribers. (The Big Ten also held discussions with Amazon.)
In the evolving world of collegiate athlete rights, Warren said he is open to speaking with players about potential revenue-sharing schemes from the new deals. “I think all of these open questions need to be put on the table to be legitimately discussed,” he said.