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Jim Delany's Final Gift: A Look at the Big Ten and Potential College Football TV Deals

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

I had thought Delany made a mistake in the last broadcast contract to have it expire before the other majors. Previously the B1G negotiations came after the other power conferences, affording 2 big benefits:


1. The B1G got to see what the other power conferences were commanding. With access to comparative TV viewership demographics, we could ensure the B1G wasn’t being undersold.
2. Networks that missed on the other contracts were backed into a corner – if they missed on the B1G, they were out of the power conference football broadcast business until the next round of contracts.

In a mix of foresight and fortunate events in other power conferences beneficial to the B1G, Delany proved to have made the right move on broadcast contracts again.

[Front-paged, mostly because it's a comprehensive look at the situation but also because ProveIt almost admitted they were wrong about something :) --Mgmt.]

THE CURRENT POWER 5 CONTRACTS

B1G - Fox, ABC/ESPN 2017-2023 (also CBS hoops) BTN/Fox extended to 2032
ESPN is in its exclusive negotiating window now, but the B1G is going to let it lapse and force them to negotiate competitively.
6 years is a short duration for a media contract for a power conference. While there was talk of NCAAF contract values dropping with the decline of cable TV providers, Delany again considered the dice rolled and came out ahead, expecting broadcast rights to continue to grow more than was being offered.

PAC – Fox, ABC/ESPN 2012-2024
PACN indefinitely (conference owned)
The PAC has been in talks to renegotiate their contracts early because they agreed to some lousy terms, so in a way they can be considered in early negotiations alongside the B1G, even though their contracts run a year longer.

B12 – Fox, ESPN 2012-2025
Some estimated Texas and Oklahoma broadcast rights to be worth about ½ of the entire B12 broadcast contract. They are leaving in 2025 (I don’t expect an agreement to be reached for early departure). 2025 is also when the B12 bowl contracts expire, and when the CFP contract expires. The networks refused a request to enter discussions to extend their contracts before Texas and Oklahoma left. After 2025, the B12 will no longer have any ties to claim to be a power conference.

ND – NBC expires in 2025
I haven’t heard of any other networks pursuing ND. For exposure, I think ND would only consider changing if all broadcasts were on NBC, ABC, CBS, or Fox.
Off topic on realignment, NDs contract with ACC runs through 2036, the ACC is the only conference ND can join in that timeframe.

SEC – ABC/ESPN/SECN through 2034 CBS expires in 2024 and already moved to ABC/ESPN
CBS insiders claimed 1 year in advance of ESPN taking over all broadcast rights that CBS was going to invest the money in other sports ventures, but given that they are shopping the B1G for a new marquee game, this probably wasn’t the reason. I believe they were outbid by ABC pushing to go head to head in the same time slot.
Silly SEC will never learn… just like their last contract, when ESPN negotiates early for a long term contract, they are shortchanging you with money that sounds good now, but will be low LONG before the contract expires, leaving your membership begging for a renegotiation, rinse, repeat.

ACC – ESPN/ACCN 2016-2036
In an attempt to keep from being poached, the members signed over all of their media rights regardless of future conference affiliation, and agreed to a ridiculously long contract to lock in membership… good idea if you’re ESPN who got the broadcast rights for cheap, good idea if you’re a smaller program like WF, but a stupid concession for their brands who should have considered the dice rolled and looked at conference realignment.

OPTIONS FOR THE NETWORKS

The SEC and ACC took themselves off the market until 2034 and 2036. The B12 will no longer be viewed as a power conference when they renegotiate their broadcast contracts.
The only power program contracts in play in the near future are the B1G in 2023, PAC in 2024, (and ND after 2025). Miss these, and you have about a decade to wait for the next power conference contract to expire.

B1G FB INVENTORY

The conference has about 91 games plus the CCG to market, but with the BTN and bye weeks, in some weeks the B1G might only have 5 football games to market. The B1G could spread out the OOC body bag games to mid-season to increase this to 6. Realistically this isn’t enough to appease 4 networks, but might be enough to split among 3 networks, with 2 networks possibly only looking for 1 game a week.

I am mostly dismissing hooptyball in this discussion because compared to football broadcast contract revenue, it isn’t really notable. Deal with it.

MEET YOUR SUITORS

NBC

Currently has: ND

NBC wants to combine their ND contract with the B1G and/or PAC to create a double header on Saturdays. NBC’s name always comes up in power conference broadcast contract negotiations with a game on weeks without a ND home game, but seems to disappear quickly from the discussion. Their interest seems to be for real this time, having money in their budget after losing their NHL contract.
I think their pockets still aren’t as deep as the other suitors, so NBC will sign with the PAC.
I would have thought they would also pursue basketball to replace the NHL, and be concerned they might find themselves outbid trying to retain ND (which they’ve probably been getting at a discount), but I didn’t find any references to either of these.

CBS

Currently has: CUSA, MAC, splits MWC minus Boise, Army, Navy, losing the SEC

CBS had a LOT of success with the SEC game of the week and CCG, and are looking to continue this with another power conference. ND alone can’t provide a game every week, and can barely hold their own as part of a package. The PAC isn’t an option to provide this, based on some quick numbers in the Nielsen ratings for most viewed college football games:

  • 2021 - the B1G comprised 5 of the top 12 and 3 of the top 5, SEC had 6, ND and the PAC had 1 each.
  • 2020 "Armageddon is upon us but college football is immortal" - the B1G had 4 of the top 10 ratings, same as the SEC, ND had 2, PAC had none.
  • 2019 - the B1G had 3 of the top 6, SEC had 5 of the top 10, ND had 1, PAC again had none.

Unless CBS completely changes their model from top weekly game plus CCG, it is now B1G or bust.

Fox

Currently splits: B1G and PAC and B12 and MWC minus Boise

They will have some budget room with the drop in status of the B12, leaving them with the B1G and PAC. With the PAC the only other power conference they can access for over a decade, keeping the B1G broadcast contract isn’t an option - they can’t be a major player with PAC their only power conference. It isn’t a question if they will contract with the B1G, but how CBS’s desire for a high selection factors in to how much they pay… do they try to block out CBS, settle for 2nd tier selection, or split tier 1 selection with CBS?

ESPN

Currently has: ACC, SEC, splits B1G and PAC and B12, AAC, Sun, Boise

ESPN's big draw in the SEC, they got the ACC for a bargain, and they aren't looking for inventory. ESPN wants to maintain a tie to all 4 of the power conferences (and B12 and AAC) for leverage with carriers, but doesn’t need inventory or an additional big draw with exclusive rights to the ACC and SEC – I think ESPN would prefer to split all of the other conferences, power and otherwise. I expect ESPN to give up B1G tier 1 selection access (CBS and Fox will drive that price too high), and settle for splitting tier 2 and tier 3, or dropping all the way to tier 3.

MY BROADCASTER PREDICTION

NBC - drops out of the B1G bidding and courts the PAC.

CBS - buys into the B1G with a LOT of money for tier 1 selection access (alone or preferential split with Fox), for 1 game a week and the B1G CCG. If CBS misses on the B1G, they drop out of power college football broadcasting after their SEC contract expires. (13 or 14 games plus CCG)

Fox - stays as the 2nd major broadcaster. In game selection, they will be behind CBS but still ahead of ESPN. (35 to 39 games)

ESPN - stays as the 3rd major broadcaster for at least 2 games a week, wanting to keep ties to all power conferences for subscriptions, but not wanting a lot of additional inventory. (26 or 28 games)

BTN/Fox - unchanged. (13 or 14 games plus lower tier games the other networks pass on)

HOW MUCH WILL SHARED REVENUE REACH?

Previously they were projecting the total media contracts (including hoops, BTN, etc.) to net the B1G $1 - $1.1 billion a year ($71.4 - $78.5 million per program).

This was before Texas and Oklahoma announced leaving the B12 reducing the college football landscape to 4 power conferences, CBS needing to replace their SEC contract, and NBC dipping their toes deeper into college football than ND.

I think the B1G shared revenue shoots well past $1.1 billion a year (over $80 million a year per program), with a contract lasting until 2033 (renewal before the ACC contract expires). I am curious if the B1G backs off the night game limits.

Won’t be included but should

Clause that if B1G expands, networks can increase the contract the same percentage to maintain the same per program payout, or the B1G can market the expansion teams’ home games separately.

ButWutAbout Expansion to increase inventory?

No power conference would turn down a request to join from Army-Navy-Air Force, but they aren’t interested.
ND and ACC rights and contract obligations are locked in for now, revisit in a little under a decade. PAC is too far. SEC programs aren’t moving. If the depleted B12 or G5 or independents not listed above had candidate programs, they would have been added in past expansion. We will continue to be who we are now for a long time.

Kevin Warren’s Wing Man

The B1G contracted Delany as a consultant through 2023 – he won’t be the lead negotiator, but Kevin Warren would be hard pressed to find a better wing man.