The Big Ten Conference has reached the richest-ever television agreement for a university athletic league, selling the rights to its competitions for a mean of at the very least $1 billion a 12 months.
The seven-year arrangement, announced Thursday and value at the very least $7 billion over the lifetime of the contract, cements the Big Ten as one among the nation’s pre-eminent college sports leagues. It also guarantees to fuel the intensifying debate over how universities should treat athletes who are usually not paid salaries.
The deal reflects television networks’ desire to capitalize on America’s enormous appetite for sports, and it comes at a time of extraordinary upheaval in college athletics.
Elite leagues are still awash in money, though, and there was more open talk, joined last month by Jim Harbaugh, Michigan’s football coach, about whether players should receive a cut. But conferences have made no move in that direction and have resisted calls to categorise athletes as employees.
Now the Big Ten, unbothered by the prospect of a windfall inviting latest pressure, is borrowing from a technique that the N.F.L. has relied on to turn into North America’s wealthiest sports league. Starting with the 2023 season, it can split football games amongst three broadcast networks, with Fox, CBS and NBC each armed with sought-after time slots.
Beyond transforming the Big Ten right into a powerhouse of football scheduling, the contract’s sheer value will give the league and its members a measure of stability within the years ahead. It also dwarfs the conference’s expiring agreement, which has been value about $430 million annually.
The Big Ten’s deal calls for Fox, the dominant shareholder within the Big Ten Network, to have most of the signature football games from a league that already includes 14 universities, including eyeball-drawing brands like Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, and can add Southern California and U.C.L.A in 2024. Fox can even air games on the Big Ten Network and FS1.
But unlike the Southeastern Conference, which signed its rights over to Disney and its web of platforms, including ABC and ESPN, the Big Ten elected to succeed in agreements with broadcasters beyond Fox.
CBS, whose long relationship with the SEC is nearing its end, will ultimately fill its Saturday afternoon time slot known for matchups from Southern football havens with games from Big Ten hot spots like Nebraska and Wisconsin.
NBC will select a Big Ten contest to broadcast, often in prime time, and broaden its college sports offerings beyond the Notre Dame home games it already airs under a separate deal directly with the university. Peacock, NBC’s streaming platform, can even show Big Ten games.
“The Big Ten can be on network television from noon on most Saturdays to 11 o’clock at night, which is unheard-of,” said Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, who added that he had been drawn to the Big Ten as “a really national conference,” even before the planned additions of U.C.L.A. and U.S.C.
Although the Big Ten didn’t announce specific financial terms, 4 individuals with knowledge of the negotiations described the contracts, speaking on the condition of anonymity to debate confidential talks.
Along with football, the contracts cover men’s and girls’s basketball and all other sports sponsored by the conference, including baseball, softball and volleyball.
Football, though, drove the negotiations. With Fox plainly positioned to stay the Big Ten’s central broadcast partner, the jockeying centered around how other media corporations might split the conference’s portfolio.
“When you could have multiple partners, it’s like having multiple siblings: There’s a specific amount of healthy competition,” Kevin Warren, the Big Ten commissioner, said in an interview about talks that also included Amazon, Apple, ESPN and WarnerMedia, which merged with Discovery this 12 months.
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No platform’s absence from the deal is more striking than ESPN’s: The broadcaster has been tied to the Big Ten since Ronald Reagan’s presidency, and it has outsize influence over popular perceptions of American sports. But ESPN balked on the Big Ten’s proposed terms and can as an alternative showcase other top leagues just like the SEC and the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Although universities earn cash from sports in myriad ways, their most vital athletic revenue source is broadcasting rights. Conferences generally handle the negotiations — the National Collegiate Athletic Association is in charge for national postseason basketball — and distribute money to their member schools.
Lower than 20 years ago, Big Ten schools were splitting lower than $200 million in media rights money annually when adjusted for inflation, in response to a database run by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics and Syracuse University.
Although the Big Ten entered the negotiations with ambitions of striking a record deal, its prospects were fortified this summer, when it poached U.C.L.A. and U.S.C. from the Pac-12, effective in 2024. (The Big Ten, whose footprint will soon stretch from California to Latest Jersey, could add much more schools, and the brand new contracts include mechanisms to extend their value if the conference’s ranks grow.)
The conference will proceed its reliance on Saturdays at noon Eastern time for a top-tier football game, encouraged by how the slot draws fans into the conference’s orbit sooner.
“So that you can be prepared to do the noon game — whatever food you’re putting within the Crock-Pot, whatever tailgate you’re doing, wherever the children are going, are you driving, are you getting a ride to the sport — you’ve got to begin making those decisions on Friday,” said Warren, who had a stint as one among college sports’ most reviled figures after the Big Ten initially canceled its 2020 football season due to pandemic.
“The sooner that I can create an environment that we start moving into your mind earlier, the higher,” added Warren, who spent a long time working for N.F.L. franchises.
Although the Big Ten will make far lower than the N.F.L., whose media rights are valued at greater than $10 billion a 12 months, the conference’s agreement marks the primary time a university league has secured a deal that averages at the very least $1 billion annually.
Later this decade, the N.C.A.A.’s contract for its Division I men’s basketball tournament, a centerpiece of the March Madness spectacle, will swell to be value about $1.1 billion a 12 months.
More immediately, the Big Ten’s arrangement extends its jousting with the SEC for business and sports supremacy. The Big Ten appears to have a financial edge for now.
The SEC announced in 2020 that it had signed an agreement with Disney for the league’s top-shelf football games, moving them from CBS after the 2023 season and adding to a relationship already value lots of of hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Before the SEC decided so as to add Oklahoma and Texas starting in 2025, the brand new, if narrow, deal was value about $300 million a 12 months.
In an interview this summer, Greg Sankey, the SEC commissioner, said he didn’t regret the timing of his league’s contract for its top games. With rumors bubbling in July about CBS nearing a more costly agreement to be something lower than the Big Ten’s primary partner, Sankey pointedly noted that the network “made decisions not to fulfill our expectations.”
“It’s a bit inexplicable, I believe, but that was their decision,” Sankey added.
McManus, the CBS Sports chairman, said this week that he believed his network and Sankey’s conference had enjoyed a mutually helpful relationship, and that he thought “a portion of their success and growth is directly tied to” the CBS broadcast window. He said he expected that the Big Ten arrangement would “pay more dividends for us than the SEC deal would have.”
“We checked out the worth that the Big Ten brought us and the national scope, and this deal makes a variety of sense for us,” McManus said. “The deal that we were talking to the SEC about just didn’t make a variety of sense for us.”
On the sector, though, one other football season will play out before the brand new Big Ten contract begins. Alabama, a stalwart of the SEC, is ranked No. 1 in preseason polls. Ohio State, a pride of the Big Ten, is No. 2.