After reports were published that the Big Ten had agreed to sell half of their TV rights to Fox for as much as $250 million a year, the speculation immediately turned to whether the conference could split with longtime TV partner ESPN for the second half of the rights. That speculation intensified after Big Ten conference meetings, when multiple league administrators made it clear that a split was possible. We argued that even if it meant taking a financial haircut, the Big Ten needed to find a way to stick with ESPN.
And now, it looks like they have.
According to the Sports Business Journal, ESPN will buy the second half of the Big Ten media package for an average of $190 million over six years. CBS will also renew their basketball contract with the conference for $10 million dollars a year. The SBJ also revised the Fox figure down to $240 million. All-in-all, the entire media deal comes out to a staggering six year, $2.64 billion dollar contract.
This also doesn't include payouts that come from the Big Ten Network, whose contract with Fox runs until 2031-2032, and has proved to be quite popular and profitable.
What does this contract mean for Ohio State, specifically? Per the SBJ:
The difference between the two packages is that Fox Sports will carry the Big Ten football championship game every season, which is a strong draw each December. Fox also will have game selection advantages over ESPN, which almost certainly means that the coveted Michigan-Ohio State rivalry will move to Fox most years.
Before each season, the networks will pick the weeks where they get first choice of games. Fox will have the first pick every year; ESPN will have the second; Fox will have the third, and so on.
ESPN will carry Big Ten football games on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2. ESPNU will see far fewer Big Ten games than it has in the past.
Seeing The Game on a different network will probably be a bit jarring to traditionalists, and with Fox getting first dibs generally, Ohio State fans will certainly want to make sure FS1 is part of their TV package, as Ohio State will be making more than a few appearances over the course of this TV deal.
On the surface, this looks like a big win for everybody. Big Ten coaches get to be happy, because they retain a spot on the most popular and most wildly distributed series of networks, helping them with exposure and recruiting. ESPN is happy, because they retain perhaps the single most valuable college brands and properties, and boost morale after a series of headlines focusing on cost-cutting and their financial struggles. Other conferences could be happy, because this may be a sign that the TV rights market might not be slowing down too much for elite brands. Fans will still get games on ESPN's superior streaming services. And Big Ten schools, of course, are going to make a gazillion dollars.
That's about all you can ask for as far as a media rights deal is concerned. It's a good day to be a fan of a Big Ten program.