ESPN out of Big Ten negotiations as Fox, CBS, NBC near deals: Sources

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The Big Ten is in the process of finalizing its media rights deals, with sources telling The Athletic the league hopes to make an official announcement by early next week. In a stunning development, ESPN has pulled out of negotiations, sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations confirmed to The Athletic.

In addition to Fox, which had locked up Big Ten rights months ago, the conference is likely to partner with both CBS and NBC. Such deals, if finalized, could result in the following Saturday slate: a noon ET game on Fox, a 3:30 p.m. ET game on CBS and prime time on NBC. Multiple sources involved in the negotiations have reiterated over the past month that the Big Ten has prioritized those windows throughout the process.

ESPN officially pulled out of Big Ten negotiations after saying no to the conference’s final offer of a seven-year deal worth $380 million per year, a source told The Athletic on Tuesday. Sports Business Journal first reported the developments.

ESPN’s rejection of the Big Ten’s offer was for only 13 of the Big Ten’s “B”/“C” package of games; ESPN had also looked at a prime-time package. Fox has already landed the league’s “A” package of games, which it will carry in the noon window.

ESPN’s exclusive 10-year deal with the SEC, starting in 2024-25, is believed to be in the $300 million range. That deal includes both 3:30 pm ET and prime-time windows for the conference’s premier games, which differs from what the network was in play for with the Big Ten. Clearly, the worldwide leader did not value the Big Ten’s secondary package at a higher price for fewer years than its SEC deal, especially with the network already obligated to the ACC as well.

The news is undoubtedly historic. ESPN has carried Big Ten football and basketball games for the last 40 years.

 

The Big Ten is also likely to add some sort of streaming option, a source told The Athletic, though it is not yet clear how it will be structured and whether or not Amazon or Apple will be involved. Both companies have significantly increased their investment in live sports programming in the past year. Another streaming candidate under consideration is Peacock, which is already part of NBC’s offerings, a different source said. That would make sense if NBC lands a Big Ten package as it is now expected to do so.

CBS is expected to pay the Big Ten $350 million per year in its new deal, a source confirmed to The Athletic. NBC is also expected to pay around $350 million per year, according to multiple reports. Multiple outlets have reported that the Big Ten is seeking to eclipse $1 billion in rights fees per year in its new deal.

The Big Ten said in a statement Tuesday the “overall constructs of the new rights agreements have not been finalized.”

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What we know about Big Ten rights negotiations

“The conference continues to have productive meetings with both linear and direct-to-consumer media partners,” the Big Ten said. “We are committed to delivering unparalleled resources and exposure opportunities for Big Ten Conference member institutions, athletic programs, student-athletes, coaches and fans. We are very thankful to the media companies who recognize the value of Big Ten programming and want to deliver it to our fans around the world in a forward-thinking manner.”

With ESPN no longer in the mix to broadcast Big Ten football, expect the network to get involved in either or both of the Pac-12 and Big 12 conferences, whose rights come up next. The Pac-12 already opened its exclusive negotiating window with ESPN early in the aftermath of USC and UCLA’s move to the Big Ten.

—  Richard Deitsch and Matt Fortuna contributed reporting.

(Photo: Matthew O’Haren / USA Today)

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