The Big Ten on Thursday announced it has finalized a new broadcast-heavy media-rights package, inking Fox, NBC and CBS to a comprehensive deal that extends through the 2029-30 season and will generate more than $1 billion a year.
In what amounts to the most lucrative financial tie-up for a collegiate conference, escalators in the deal are expected to push the overall value even higher should the Big Ten continue its expansion efforts.
The terms of the new deal align with earlier reports, with Fox retaining its top-rated “Big Noon Saturday” college football window, while CBS will assume stewardship over a weekly 3:30 p.m. ET broadcast. NBC will close out the Saturday lineup with a primetime showcase.
The deal kicks in starting with the 2023 campaign.
Fox maintains the largest chunk of the Big Ten rights, as the network and its cable sibling FS1 are set to televise between 24 and 27 football games under the first year of the deal, before powering up to a slate of 30 to 32 contests for each of the six subsequent seasons. Fox will also broadcast the conference’s championship game during the odd years (2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029), while CBS will host the title tilt in 2024 and 2028. NBC’s championship bid arrives in 2026.
The deal is a coup for once-embattled Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, who characterized it as “an incredible achievement.” The commissioner went on to note that such long-term arrangements are a “mechanism to provide stability and maximum exposure for our student-athletes, member institutions and partners during these uncertain times in collegiate athletics.”
Warren’s sentiments were echoed by the conference’s media partners.
“We are proud to expand upon our long-standing partnership with the Big Ten Conference,” Fox Sports CEO and executive producer Eric Shanks said. “Commissioner Warren’s leadership and vision have resulted in the growth and recent market expansion of the Big Ten Conference. In an ever-evolving landscape, the Big Ten remains the most storied collegiate athletic conference in the country.”
Under the new distribution scheme, CBS will televise seven Big Ten football games in 2023 before expanding its coverage to as many as 15 regular-season games thereafter. All CBS games will stream on Paramount+. The odd hitch in the 2023 schedule is a function of CBS’ legacy obligations to the SEC and its preexisting 3:30 p.m. commitments.
CBS is said to have agreed to pay upwards of $350 million per year for the late-afternoon window, an even higher price than the $300 million or so that would have been required to retain the SEC rights. At the time, CBS balked at the SEC’s asking price, given that it marked nearly a 450% upgrade from the sweetheart deal the network carved out back in 1996. Under the terms of that deal, CBS was on the hook for just $55 million per year, making its expiring SEC deal the biggest bargain on the sports-media market.
“The Big Ten has been a valued partner for more than three decades, and we are thrilled to expand that relationship by adding Big Ten football to our portfolio of marquee properties,” said CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus, by way of announcing the network’s acquisition. “Together with Kevin Warren and the team at the Big Ten, we look forward to growing the conference to the highest of levels, reaching the widest audience.”
NBC, for its part, will broadcast 16 Big Ten football games for each of the seven years, a roster that includes a nighttime window on the Sunday before Labor Day and an advertiser-friendly Black Friday production designed to lead out of the network’s annual primetime Thanksgiving NFL game. All NBC games will stream on Peacock.
Separately, NBC is expected to announce a renewal of its longstanding deal with Notre Dame, and while that arrangement should keep the Irish independent, the network’s parallel investment in the Big Ten should result in all sorts of interesting synergies.
“We are incredibly excited to be partnering with Kevin Warren and the Big Ten Conference on this robust package of sports,” Pete Bevacqua, chairman, NBC Sports, said in a statement released Thursday morning. “With Big Ten Saturday Night and Sunday Night Football headlining each fall weekend in primetime on NBC and Peacock, along with our historic Notre Dame Football partnership, NBC Sports will be the home of premier games in college football and the NFL.”
While Fox locked in its portion of the Big Ten bonanza more than a month ago, the network played an unconventional role in the negotiations for the two other TV slots. Fox, which owns a 60% stake in the Big Ten Network, advised the Big Ten throughout the bidding process. Incumbent Disney bowed out of the talks a few weeks ago, bringing an end to 40 years of Big Ten Football on ESPN.
For Bristol, the price of holding on to a chunk of the Big Ten was too dear. After a protracted head-to-head showdown with NBC over the primetime slot, ESPN stepped away from the talks once it became apparent that a winning bid would come in at around $380 million per year—double what the network pays under its current deal.
The Big Ten and SEC last year accounted for nearly all of the 10 most-watched college games, as the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry scared up a season-high 15.9 million viewers on Fox, while CBS coverage of the SEC Championship Game between Georgia and Alabama served up 15.3 million viewers. Other top draws include Fox’s broadcast of the Big Ten Championship (Michigan-Iowa, 11.7 million viewers), CBS’s presentation of the 86th Iron Bowl (10.4 million) and Fox’s Oct. 30 Michigan-Michigan State game (9.29 million).
College football games accounted for seven of the 100 most-watched broadcasts of 2021, per Nielsen live-plus-same-day data. Regular-season games generated some $800 million in advertising revenue, with the Ohio State-Michigan slugfest accounting for the largest single-game take (nearly $19.5 million).