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Report: Big Ten Media Rights Likely Leaving ESPN for FOX, NBC, CBS; Streaming Package Still in Play

Matt Tamanini

ABC has aired Big Ten football games since 1966 and ESPN first bid on the conference’s media rights in 1982. But according to a new report from the Sports Business Journal's John Ourand, the venerated “midwestern” conference could be moving on from having games broadcast by the Disney networks when its new rights deal goes into effect following the 2023 season.

Ourand notes that while new deals could be finalized as early as this week, nothing is finalized yet, but it appears that NBC and CBS are in line to join FOX in broadcasting Big Ten games. However, given Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s deep roots in the conference — he has an undergraduate degree from Indiana and an MBA from Michigan State, both Big Ten schools — he could loosen the worldwide leader in sports’ purse strings at any point in order to up the bid.

FOX already has secured half of the Big Ten’s package, giving it first choice of games via the league’s Series A rights, meaning that many of the conference’s best games will air in FOX’s Big Noon Saturday window. The current plan would be for the other two networks to split the Series B rights, meaning that CBS would likely then air a major Big Ten game at 3:30 p.m. ET and for NBC to follow up with a primetime matchup, giving the Big Ten an unprecedented wall of Saturday programming across three different broadcast networks.

Other league games would air on the networks’ cable offshoots, including the Big Ten Network — which FOX owns 61% of — FS1, FS2, CBS Sports Network, USA Network, and potentially others.

The Athletic's Scott Dochterman is also reporting that a streaming-only package is still an option for the conference as Prime Video, Apple TV+, and Peacock all remain possibilities to land some sort of piece of the rights deal. Amazon had been the perceived leader to secure any potential Big Ten streaming option, but when the conference announced that it would welcome Los Angeles-based schools UCLA and USC to the league in 2024, Apple jumped back into negotiations.

If NBCUniversal does end up finalizing a deal to air games on its linear channels, Peacock could be the beneficiary by landing a streaming-exclusive slice of the broadcasting pie.

The Big Ten was already expected to become the first collegiate conference to secure rights deals worth more than $1 billion per year, but when the league lured UCLA and USC from the Pac-12, expectations for the package’s price tag jumped to $1.25B to $1.5B.

Of course, there will be major ripples throughout college sports should these deals come to fruition. With the loss of Big Ten inventory, ESPN would likely turn to the Pac-12 and Big 12 in order to fill timeslots, giving the conferences much-needed financial lifelines after turbulent years for both. It will also be interesting to see how the Big Ten’s presence on NBC impact’s the league’s relationship with Notre Dame, which has long been the crowned jewel in the network’s college lineup.

Given that the Fighting Irish’s preeminent rival USC has joined the Big Ten — and ND has maintained regular matchups with conference schools Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue for decades — many believe that this could be the thing that convinces the stalwart collegiate independent to finally join a conference.

Whatever the case, the Big Ten’s 14 — soon to be 16 — schools are in for a massive payday wherever the games end up being broadcast, and these deals will undoubtedly make a major mark on the broadcasting landscape for years to come.

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