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Making Sense of the Dollars & Cents of the Big Ten Deal

Big Ten Deal

Source CamStock Photo: Graphic by Kyle Golik

Big Ten cashes in on landmark media rights deal with FOX, CBS, and NBC

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, if he played chess, isn't one that would dominate the speed chess ranks.

Warren has taken an approach navigating the Big Ten in these uncertain times with a very tactful approach. He consumed as we all did last summer when the SEC expanded its brand and footprint by adding college football bluebloods Texas and Oklahoma.

He, along with Big Ten university presidents, then evaluated the situation and tried to forecast what the future of the sport will be.

Then the Big Ten acted, it kicked off with the expansion of Southern Cal and UCLA, the timing was very much right to add teams in the nation's second largest market in the midst of media rights negotiations.

Today's announcement of the Big Ten agreeing with FOX, NBC, and CBS to a 7-year $7 billion contract is a landmark deal that dwarfs all other current media deals - the SEC on ESPN begins a 10-year contract in 2024 where it will pay $300 million a season to SEC schools.

Warren said of the announcement attending Rose Bowl meetings in Napa Valley, California,“I’m excited about the creativity of what we’re going to be able to deliver to our fans and to our student-athletes and to our families.”

Let's attempt to make some sense of this announcement and what this all means to the fans and league.

What is the breakdown of games?

FOX, who is the lead stakeholder in the media rights agreement, will televise 24-27 Big Ten football games in 2023 and 30-32 games annually from 2024-29 between FOX and FS1. The network will continue to build on its Big Ten Big Noon Kickoff brand with their signature game being in the 12:00 EST time slot.

NBC will be in the primetime television slot with its signature game and will televise 16 Big Ten football games annually in 2023-29. They are looking to include prime-time games on Labor Day Sunday and Black Friday. Peacock will televise eight Big Ten football games annually from 2023-29 and have simulcasts of all NBC televised games.

CBS will anchor the 3:30 PM time slot and televise seven Big Ten football games in 2023 and 15 regular season games annually from 2024-29. CBS backloaded the contract as the more content they air, the more they pay out to the league. Every CBS Big Ten football and basketball broadcast will be streamed on Paramount+.

CBS, FOX and NBC will each televise the Big Ten football championship games during the contract. Fox will broadcast the Big Ten Championship Game in 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029, CBS will broadcast the Big Ten Championship Game in 2024 and 2028, and NBC will broadcast it in 2026,

The Big Ten Network will broadcast around 40 football games per season during the contract.

The Reason Kevin Warren Became Commissioner

Kevin Warren came to the Big Ten with a NFL background, working within the league for a better part of 22 years with the St. Louis Rams, Detroit Lions, and predominantly with the Minnesota Vikings.

He gained a reputation in league circles as a man handled situations with aplomb and the ability to right the ship. Warren was a four-time recipient of the Fritz Pollard Alliance Salute to Excellence Award.

He also understood the NFL vision of going big and bold. The news of this landmark agreement just amplifies why he received the job.

“The Big Ten is going to be on three major television networks from noon until 11 o’clock at night every Saturday — that is unprecedented,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus told The Athletic.

When you add in streaming options of Peacock and Paramount+, Warren's NFL vision has achieved an excellent foundation early in his tenure as Big Ten Commissioner, where the Big Ten is broadcasted on multiple networks and receiving top dollar for its content.

Escalator Clause and Expansion

The Big Ten shrewdly did a few things different than the ACC and SEC did in their contracts.

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Warren followed the same philosophy his predecessor Jim Delaney set with intermediate deals that give flexibility to the Big Ten to pivot.

The Escalator Clause allows the Big Ten to receive more cash in exchange for more inventory.

In the deal it could bump the total payout to the Big Ten up to $10 billion, this allows the league to be selective in expanding its brand and looking at the potential Big Ten targets of Notre Dame, Oregon, Washington, Stanford, and Cal that door is still open.

The other part is the timing, the Big Ten can renew this deal before it terminates on June 30, 2030. If they do, they are looking at the renewal expiring in 2036 right in the same time frame the ACC's Grant of Rights are expiring in the same time frame and where the Big Ten can poach ACC schools and negotiate an even bigger media rights deal.

ESPN and SEC

To get an idea why three major networks decided to invest this much money for the Big Ten, you have to look at some key numbers and demographics:

  • Last season 72 college football games had 3.5 million viewers or more watch the games, the Big Ten appeared in 32 of these games and the SEC appeared in 31 of these games
  • With the same 3.5 million viewer mark, in conference games 18 Big Ten conference games hit that number and 17 SEC conference games hit that number
  • Backing the high ratings Big Ten content has, the Big Ten is concentrated in the Top 4 U.S. Markets (New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia) and 7 of the Top 15 markets (Washington D.C., Minneapolis, and Detroit)

The long play the Big Ten maneuvering from the ESPN is well documented between a low-ball offer from ESPN to the league in 2004, to the Big Ten allowing FOX to power the Big Ten Network, then another low-ball offer from ESPN in 2016 for tier-one games that the league ultimately went with FOX.

For Big Ten, it was always welcomed to the head of the ESPN table with the SEC, but the World Wide Leader would always give preferential treatment to the SEC, evolving into a deeper and meaningful relationship between ESPN and SEC with SEC Network and how the network promotes its content.

Part of the reason you have to imagine the CFP Expansion talks stalled was Warren knew it needs to wrestle ESPN's exclusivity to the CFP, something that has dated back to 2014, and needed leverage to do.

Warren will enter a new round of talks with that NFL vision to have the CFP rotated amongst the Big Ten's partners, and bring more clarity to what the future of the CFP holds.

The SEC has lined up golden trophies for the better part of a decade and a half, but the return on investment on it was a media rights deal barely half the Big Ten received.

The Big Ten's agreement has done what is unthinkable in the sports industry, a marquee league telling ESPN, "no" and then going out and putting together this package.

Final Analysis

The future of the sport will hinge on two men: Kevin Warren and Greg Sankey

Sankey flexed with the movement to ESPN as its exclusive home and expanding its brand with Texas and Oklahoma.

Warren patiently assessed the environment and long time planning, flexed his muscle with the additions of Southern Cal and UCLA as well as today's announcement of the agreement reached.

I believe the Big Ten will prosper in this new environment they have negotiated.

I feel the league will expand before this deal is up to secure its West Coast schools.

The questions remain and will not be answered for some time is the future of the College Football Playoff, today's news certainly sheds some light on what the Big Ten's interests are, and when the ACC Grant of Rights expires in 2036.

The Big Ten has positioned itself for the long haul, the next moves we all can surmise, but they will be big and calculated.