The Big Ten Conference is expected to start negotiating its new media rights deal in the spring. The last big sports rights deal of the decade, common wisdom has long been that the conference will command huge increases over the 10-year, $1 billion deal it has with ESPN and the six-year, $72 million deal it has with CBS for basketball. Both deals run through the 2016-17 seasons.
Common wisdom, however, could run into market realities, where a smaller cable TV universe will put pressure on how much networks can afford to pay out.
My bet is that the conference will see a huge rights fee increase and that ESPN and Fox Sports will come up with money to split the rights. Two significant factors, though, bear watching — either of which could throw a wrench into the Big Ten’s aspirations for a big payday.
First: Will ESPN’s recent round of cost-cutting affect how much the Disney-owned channel can offer?
Second: Fox Sports already has a massive rights portfolio that could keep its bid from reaching the heights that the sports market saw last year.
So far, every TV network is singing from the same songbook when it comes to the Big Ten. Over the past month, top executives with CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN announced their interest in at least kicking the tires on the conference’s media rights when its current deals end after next season.
The presence of four networks bidding up the rights suggests that the conference is going to benefit from a bidding war and see huge increases from its current deal.
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