ESPN out of Big Ten negotiations as Fox, CBS, NBC close to deals: sources

ESPN out of Big Ten negotiations as Fox, CBS, NBC close to deals: sources

The Big Ten is in the process of finalizing its media rights deals, with sources telling The Athletic the league hopes to make an official announcement early next week. In a startling development, ESPN has pulled out of the negotiations, sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations have confirmed to The Athletic.

In addition to Fox, which secured the Big Ten rights months ago, the conference will likely partner with both CBS and NBC. Such deals, if finalized, could result in the following Saturday schedule: one game at 12:00 p.m. ET on Fox, one game at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS, and prime time on NBC. Multiple sources involved in the negotiations have reiterated over the past month that the Big Ten has prioritized these windows throughout the process.

ESPN officially pulled out of the Big Ten negotiations after rejecting the conference’s final offer of a seven-year, $380 million-a-year contract, a source told The Athletic on Tuesday. The Sports Business Journal first reported on the developments.

ESPN’s rejection of the Big Ten’s bid affected only 13 of the Big Ten’s “B”/”C” game packages; ESPN had also viewed a prime-time package. Fox has already landed the league’s “A” games package, which it will carry in the noon window.

ESPN’s exclusive 10-year deal with the SEC, beginning in 2024-25, is believed to be in the $300 million range. This deal includes both 3:30 p.m. ET and prime time slots for the conference’s key games, which is different than what the network was in the game for with the Big Ten. It’s clear that the global leader hasn’t priced the Big Ten’s secondary package higher than its SEC deal for fewer years, especially since the network is already committed to the ACC as well.

The news is undoubtedly historic. ESPN has broadcast Big Ten football and basketball games for the last 40 years.

The Big Ten are also likely to add some sort of streaming option, a source told The Athletic, although it’s not yet clear how it will be structured and whether or not Amazon or Apple will be involved. Both companies have significantly increased their investments in live sports programming over the past year. Another streaming candidate being considered is Peacock, which is already part of NBC’s bid, another source said. That would make sense if NBC lands a Big Ten package, as is now expected.

CBS is expected to pay the Big Ten $350 million a year for its new deal, a source confirmed to The Athletic. NBC is also expected to pay around $350 million a year, according to multiple reports. Multiple outlets have reported that the Big Ten is looking to eclipse $1 billion in rights fees a year in its new deal.

The Big Ten said in a statement Tuesday that “the overall constructs of the new rights arrangements are ongoing.”

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What we know about the Big Ten rights negotiations

“The conference continues to have productive meetings with both linear and direct media partners,” the Big Ten said. “We are committed to providing unparalleled resources and opportunities for Big Ten Conference members, sports programs, student athletes, coaches and fans. We are very grateful to the media companies who recognize the value of Big Ten programming and want to make it available to our fans around the world in a forward-thinking way.”

With ESPN no longer in the mix to broadcast Big Ten football, you can expect the network to get involved in one or both of the Pac-12 and Big 12 conferences, whose rights are next up. The Pac-12 opened its exclusive negotiation window with ESPN early in the wake of USC and UCLA’s move to the Big Ten.

— Richard Deitsch and Matt Fortuna contributed reporting.

(Photo: Matthew O’Haren / USA Today)