Big Ten, networks meet on new deals


I’m sending out tonight’s newsletter in the middle of the Terps’ race at the College World Series regionals. UConn is up tonight in a do-or-die game.

The Big Ten and Fox Sports have been holding meetings all week with at least six media and tech companies seeking to reclaim the rights to the college conference, sources tell me. Fox already has a deal in place to remain the conference’s largest media partner, though the size of that package has yet to be determined as the conference determines who its other media partners will be.

Currently, Amazon, CBS, ESPN and NBC are vying for the rest of the package, which could be sold to one, two or three other bidders. Warner Bros. executives Discovery and Apple will also meet with the conference this week. But multiple sources say talks with these two companies have not progressed, and they are seen as dark horse candidates at best.

Ultimately, the Big Ten is poised to become the first college conference to eclipse the $1 billion mark for media rights per year. Negotiations are expected to continue throughout this month; a final agreement could be reached at the end of the summer.

The purpose of this week’s meetings is to come up with the specific packages the networks want and the price they will pay. So far, CBS has been aggressive in securing a game for its late Saturday afternoon window, and NBC has expressed interest in a Saturday night primetime window for Big Ten football. ESPN has also made clear its desire to keep Big Ten games on its channels. The wildcard is Amazon, which has gone to great lengths to bring the conference rights to Prime.

Fox Sports and the Big Ten co-manage the rights. BTN, which is majority-owned by Fox, controls the media rights to the conference and is negotiating with media companies seeking to reclaim them.

If you want a reason why I’m not playing, look no further than the NBA Finals Game 1 viewership. With superstars like Steph Curry and a super brand in the Celtics, I expected big numbers. After all, the NBA playoffs leading up to the Finals had the highest average viewership since 2018, according to numbers calculated by SBJ’s Austin Karp.

But the viewership for Game 1 was surprisingly low. The 11.9 million people who watched via ABC and ESPN2 was the lowest viewership for Game 1 in 15 years, not counting last year’s finals held in early July or the year before in the bubble. Orlando in October.

I expected the Finals opener to follow the rest of the NBA playoffs and see a comparable audience to 2019 — especially since the game was close to the fourth quarter.

If this series lasts six or seven games, as most predicted, expect the crowd to rebound.

The allure of the Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028 Olympics was enough to convince Amy Rosenfeld to leave ESPN for NBC Sports, where she becomes senior vice president of Olympic and Paralympic production, reporting to Molly Solomon.

ESPN has yet to decide how he will replace Rosenfeld, but in the meantime, four executives are assuming his duties. This includes Senior Vice President/Production Mike Shiffman, who will oversee the ACC Network, and Vice President/Production Rodolfo Martinez, who will assume football responsibilities from Rosenfeld. Coordinating Senior Producer Ed Placey will handle lacrosse and volleyball, and Coordinating Producer Patricia Lowry and Coordinating Senior Producer Tom McCollum will oversee the Longhorn Network.

One of ESPN’s most beloved production executives (and an SBJ Game Changer last year), Rosenfeld has been praised on social media. Grant Wahl, one of the country’s top football reporters tweeted, “Rosenfeld did a great job of football for a long time at ESPN.” Christopher Harris, Founder of World Soccer Talk tweeted, “One of the most talented producers in the industry who has been tasked with raising the bar for football productions.” And Jonathan Tannenwald of tweeted“No one – and I mean no one – has done more for football at ESPN in its history.”

If you were expecting a big sports rights announcement to come out of Apple’s WWDC presentation this afternoon, you must be deeply disappointed.

Yes, Apple is still discussing Sunday Ticket rights with the NFL and MLS about its available rights. It’s unlikely to get the Big Ten rights like the story mentioned above. But none of these negotiations are close enough to merit mention in today’s presentation.

Other than a quick mention of his Friday night MLB deal, the only time sports content was mentioned today was during a discussion around Apple News. Apple will make highlights, scores, schedules and standings available on the iPhone’s lock screen through what it calls “My Sports”. I will be very interested to see how much this free service affects traffic to sports apps that already provide this service. It has the potential to negate the need to go to ESPN and see scores, which is almost the only reason I use my ESPN app.

  • As media companies face a trend of cutting cords that continues to hurt revenue – in addition to the threat posed by deep-pocketed digital companies – sports television closes the first half of 2022 in one of the strongest she had ever seen.
  • Religion of Sports, the production company co-founded by Gotham Chopra, Tom Brady and Michael Strahan, closed a $50 million Series B funding round, reports my colleague Chris Smith. The round was led by Shamrock Capital, with Dodgers/Chelsea owner Todd Boehly also among the investors.
  • Congratulations to Jabari Young, who joins Forbes as a sportscaster after several years at CNBC.


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