Big Ten faces crucial decisions about its TV future

An excerpt from my latest column in the Chicago Tribune.


The Big Ten Tournament has a nifty network threesome when it comes to television this week.  Three networks, CBS, ESPN, and BTN, will provide extensive coverage.

The more, the merrier from the perspective of Commissioner Jim Delany. CBS is using its A-team of Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill for the semifinals and final, while Mike Tirico will call ESPN’s games.

The match of quality and quantity speaks to the power of the Big Ten. Yet as Delany schmooses with his current network partners at the United Center, he and the Big Ten face crucial decisions about their TV future. The league’s football and basketball deals with ESPN/ABC and CBS expire after the 2016-17 basketball season. Negotiations are expected to heat up soon, assuming they haven’t already.

One thing is certain: The Big Ten should be in line for a windfall. The conference will get significant increases from its 10-year, $1 billion deal with ESPN/ABC for football and basketball and 6-year, $72 million pact with CBS for basketball; It also has a 25-year, $2.8 billion deal with league-run BTN that runs through 2031-32.

However, the final decision could be more than about simply dollars and cents. Delany and the Big Ten also might have to put a price tag on the value of exposure if it decides to leave the immense reach of ESPN for the fledgling Fox Sports 1.

Delany declined to comment on the situation, saying, “We are optimistic, prepared and will work closely with our schools.”

Delany knows his timing couldn’t be better, as the Big Ten’s TV rights will be the last major sports property, pro or college, to be on the market in this decade. That news isn’t lost on Fox Sports, which desperately needs top-tier live programming for its cable outlet, Fox Sports 1. The network has struggled to gain a foothold in 1 ½ years of operation.

Fox is expected to make an aggressive bid for the Big Ten’s rights. CBS Sports Network and NBCSN are unlikely contenders in this derby.


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