The Big Ten has completed a new seven-year media rights agreement with Fox, CBS and NBC that is set to bring in more than $7 billion to one of the nation’s most powerful athletic conferences.
The deal will begin July 1, 2023, and run through the end of the 2029-30 athletic year. Specific terms were not disclosed, but a financial windfall won’t come immediately, according to media sources. The CBS payout in Year 1 of the agreement is lower since it still will be carrying SEC games during the 2023 season and will air only seven Big Ten contests that fall. But the Big Ten’s per-school distribution will turn upward in Year 2 of the deal, when new members USC and UCLA enter the conference. Revenue will rise substantially beginning in Year 3.
The Big Ten is projected to eventually distribute $80 million to $100 million per year to each of its 16 members. According to USA Today, the league distributed $54.3 million to most of its members during the most recent fiscal year (2019-20) not impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s very expensive to operate our athletic departments,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren told ESPN. “These new deals will continually provide stability for our athletic departments to service our students in a highly productive manner, allowing them to get a world-class education but be treated in a manner that they rightfully deserve.
“This will help our student-athletes in their continued pursuit of name, image and likeness opportunities, because now you’re going to be on linear TV from morning to night on Saturday with three massive organizations.”
All three networks will carry future Big Ten football championship games. Fox, which will remain the Big Ten’s primary broadcast partner and has carried the title game since its inception in 2011, will broadcast the championship in 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029 (in addition to the 2022 game). CBS will carry the game in 2024 and 2028, and NBC will in 2026.
The Big Ten designed the agreement to pair major networks with specific windows on college football Saturdays. Fox will air games beginning at noon ET. CBS, which has a deal with the SEC that expires after the 2023 football season, in 2024 will begin airing Big Ten games in the same midafternoon window. NBC will carry Big Ten games in prime time, which will be branded “Big Ten Saturday Night.” Big Ten games also will appear on Peacock, NBC’s direct-to-consumer streaming platform.
“People need to know where they need to go, at what time and what content they’re going to get,” Warren said. “That’s how you build fan avidity from a long-term standpoint. We will have three clearly defined pockets of Fox at noon, CBS at 3:30 and NBC in prime. That was important for me, that we have window pairs.
“The more you can cross-promote other shows that are carried and other content that’s carried by these media partners, it’s incredibly helpful.”
The Big Ten Network will continue to air football games — up to 50 per year from 2024 through 2029 — as well as most of the league’s men’s and women’s basketball games and Olympic sports. The Big Ten will add a second Black Friday football game on CBS (Iowa and Nebraska have traditionally played a Black Friday game on Fox).
Fox will carry 24-32 football games per season during the agreement, while NBC will carry 14-16 games on its linear network and eight games per year on Peacock. Beginning in 2024, CBS will carry 14-15 Big Ten games per season.
The Big Ten and Fox will coordinate a selection order for games.
“We’re incredibly comfortable with the way the picks will work,” NBC Sports chairman Pete Bevacqua told ESPN. “We know we’re going to have great, meaningful, important games in prime time every Saturday night. We’ll work closely with Fox and CBS and the Big Ten. There’s a real system of how it works in terms of picks, so we all get great games.”
Warren said his time as an NFL executive — he worked in the Rams, Lions and Vikings organizations for a total of 21 years — shaped his vision for the Big Ten’s deal. He saw how the league assigned content to different media partners in specific windows, such as Monday Night Football (ESPN) and “Sunday Night Football” (NBC).
“I just believe that competition from a business standpoint makes everyone better,” Warren said. “It makes the Big Ten better. It will make Fox and CBS and NBC and FS1 and Big Ten Network better. When Fox kicks off the day, it’s important. And they understand right behind them is CBS, and CBS has had a long-term relationship with the SEC, they’ve got to perform well. NBC, they’ve had a relationship with Notre Dame and still do, but can they replicate the success they’ve had with ‘Sunday Night Football’ in the NFL to Saturday night?”
ESPN, which first partnered with the Big Ten for football game broadcast rights in 1982, is not part of the new agreement. The Big Ten also spoke with Turner, Apple and Amazon about its new media rights deal.
According to sources, ESPN rejected the Big Ten’s final offer of a seven-year, $380 million agreement, which included fewer marquee games than the network’s current package. Warren reiterated the respect he has for ESPN’s executive team but acknowledged that “owning windows” for football games with certain media partners was a major priority for the Big Ten in this deal. ESPN in 2024 will begin carrying all of the SEC’s football games and has the ACC’s rights through the 2035 season.
Warren added of ESPN/ABC: “Life is long and things evolve. We’ve had a great partnership. I’m looking forward to having a great year with them. We’ll still have a strong relationship.”
NBC has exclusively broadcast Notre Dame home games since 1991, but wanted to increase its college football presence. Bevacqua said NBC had been monitoring the media rights landscape and “circled” the Big Ten, which had an expiring deal with Fox and ESPN, as a potential investment.
“We were extremely motivated,” Bevacqua said. “What we love about it is the combination of having Notre Dame football, and then Big Ten football in prime time on Saturday night, and then ‘Sunday Night Football,’ to us, that’s a really powerful weekend lineup in the football season. To be able to bring the power of those assets together really made a ton of sense to us.”
Bevacqua said NBC remained “in constant contact” with Notre Dame during negotiations about obtaining a Big Ten rights package. He added that NBC will continue to broadcast some Notre Dame night home games, which would replace the Big Ten prime-time game on those weeks.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, during a virtual chat last week on the university’s website, praised the Big Ten for adding NBC to its media rights deal. He added: “It’s also perfect for Notre Dame. We need NBC to have more college football to more effectively promote our games and to talk about our games and to have NBC be seen in that light. So that was great for us that they got a big piece of this.”
Notre Dame, which has consistently stated its desire to remain independent in football, has a contract with NBC that runs through 2025. Sources said the Big Ten’s finalized media agreement will include language that addresses potential future expansion.
CBS will continue to air Big Ten men’s basketball regular-season and tournament games, and will add the league’s women’s basketball tournament championship for the first time. Peacock will carry up to 47 men’s basketball games (32 conference games) and 30 women’s basketball games (20 conference games) per season. Fox and FS1 will broadcast at least 45 men’s basketball games per season, and Big Ten Network will broadcast at least 126 men’s basketball games per season.