NBC Sports announced yesterday that it had agreed upon a six year extension with The Premier League to be their exclusive US home, continuing their agreement through 2020-2021. NBC Sports, which also has rights to the NHL, NASCAR, Golf, and some college basketball games, solidifies their soccer programming, preventing another major channel, like say, Fox Sports, from swooping in.
That's big news if you're a fan of elite international soccer. But the potential ramifications of this deal extend beyond soccer, and could even impact Ohio State and the rest of the Big Ten. Here's how.
How big a deal is this agreement for NBC Sports?
Very. The EPL is arguably the best soccer league in the world, and represents potentially the largest major professional sports rights deal to hit the open market over the next few years (more on this later). NBC Sports doesn't have major agreements with say, the NFL or the NBA, like ESPN does, and needed to maintain the rights they currently have to remain a vibrant channel. NBC Sports previously had a three year deal with the EPL, but this was a competitive bid. The terms were not released by NBC Sports, but a big increase is expected over the three years, $250 million of the previous deal. That's not a small amount of money.
Fox Sports, for example, the network that has the rights for the next three World Cups, was widely expected to bid, as well as potentially BeIN Sports and ESPN. Although apparently, ESPN wasn't an aggressive factor in the bidding, due to "too many college football commitments".
Too many college football commitments?
Perhaps the broadcast window on Saturdays will be tricky with so many other football games to show, but it's also about cost. Nobody has infinite money any more, not even ESPN, which is cutting costs as more and more Americans are cutting their cable from their budgets. ESPN is a major partner with the Big Ten right now, paying $100 million a year for Big Ten football and basketball games, and there is some speculation that they may not to pay a ton more than that when the conference's rights deal expires soon.
For what it's worth, I asked Jim Delany about this at Big Ten Media Days, and he specifically said that "ESPN has been a great partner. I hope they'll be one of our partners in the future."
Okay, but NBC Sports doesn't have too many college football commitments.
They don't. In fact, outside of Notre Dame games, they don't really have any college football commitments, which is why some thought they could be a surprise bidder for Big Ten football rights. While NBC Sports now has big time international soccer locked down for the foreseeable future, and can also boast the NHL and many NASCAR events, their football lineup is low, and with no other major sports or football leagues coming up in the near future, the Big Ten might be NBC Sports' last, best chance to get into big time football in the near future.
There are some less big-time football contracts up in the near-ish future though. NBC Sports could potentially try to pick up some Conference USA games (their deal with Fox Sports expires after this season), or be a player for BYU, once their deal with ESPN expires in 2018/2019.
But if ESPN is concerned about costs, and NBC just spent a bunch of money on the Premier League, will NBC have enough money for the Big Ten?
That's the big question, and it would make sense if the answer was no. Shelling out a bunch of cash for what is likely to be a pretty expensive rights deal may very well take NBC Sports out of the running for what should be a very expensive Big Ten deal in the near future, although never say never.
If NBC Sports isn't going to bid, who else, besides ESPN could bid?
Fox Sports is probably the only other legitimate option. Fox, after all, already broadcasts the Big Ten football title game, and the network owns a controlling interest in BTN. Another big-time rights acquisition would make the FS1 lineup formidable, as they already broadcast some Big 12 and Pac-12 games.
ESPN could also retain their football rights as well, and decide to cut costs in other departments to keep Fox at bay. CBS currently holds some basketball game rights as well, and no matter what happens with football, it's possible that they continue to be a basketball partner.
How big a TV deal are we talking about here?
Last year, their next rights deal was projected to make over $44 million a year for everybody but the conference's newcomers. There has been some speculation that perhaps the finished deal won't be quite as lucrative, given industry trends in the cable TV world, or perhaps a lack of other bidders, but it should still be a healthy upgrade over what the conference currently has, and will be a big payday for the conference schools, including Ohio State.
If NBC Sports somehow wins the bid after all, can we 'relegate' Purdue to England?
We can only hope.