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Big Ten Media: Fox Close On TV Rights Deal?

There are reports that the Big Ten and Fox might be close to signing a deal for about 1/2 of the conferences available media rights.

George Frey/Getty Images

Do you like watching the Gophers on TV? Then it's probably time to start paying attention to what's going on with the Big Ten's media rights negotiations (if you weren't already). Why? Because depending on how the new media rights deal (or deals) shake out, watching the Gophers could be harder than it used to be.

According to Sports Business Daily, the Big Ten and Fox are closing in on a deal that would grant Fox approximately half of the available media rights for B1G football and basketball games:

Deal terms still are flexible – both in terms of money and rights. However, the two sides have agreed on basic terms that will give Fox the rights to around 25 football games and 50 basketball games that it will carry on both the broadcast channel and FS1 starting in the fall of '17. The deal runs six years and could cost Fox as much as $250M per year, depending on the amount of rights the Big Ten conference puts in its second package.

It's worth noting that this Fox deal (and any subsequent deal that would need to be signed with a different network for the other half of the rights) wouldn't impact that games currently covered on Big Ten Network, since those belong to a different (third tier) rights package that isn't up for sale.

Why this wouldn't be the worst deal:

As noted above the primary impact these rights negotiations have is on the availability of Minnesota games on channels Gopher fans have easy access to. One of the primary concerns with the potential media deals with Fox was that football and basketball games would start being carried on Fox Sports 2. Access to this channel is essentially limited to the costliest TV packages or is only available via an add-on sports package full of channels you often don't care about. You know how a lot of people hate it when Minnesota games end up on ESPNU or ESPN Classic? FS2 tends to be carried even less than those minor 4 letter channels in traditional cable/satellite packages. At least in the current reports, this deal would only place games on broadcast Fox stations or Fox Sports 1. Fox Sports 2 is not mentioned, and it's exclusion would be a big win for Minnesota and Big Ten fans.

There's also the element of the money. The current deal with ESPN/ABC/CBS for basketball and football is worth approximately $112 million a year for the B1G. If the Big Ten is able to hit anywhere close to the $250 million referenced by Sports Business Daily for half the rights covered under the current $112 million per year deal with ESPN/ABC/CBS then...well...damn.

UPDATE 4:30pm CT: That last paragraph about the money really undersells the craziness of the numbers described. Here's some additional context that shows you just how nuts this offer is if it's signed at the $250 million per year quoted:

This seems like a good time for this GIF...

Why this wouldn't be the best deal:

The current Big Ten media deal puts one to two football games each week regionally on ABC (with a reverse mirror on ESPN or ESPN2 so every game gets national coverage) and two to additional three football games on an ESPN cable network - many at 11 am central time and most with national coverage. While there are many things that we all dislike about ESPN, access to games on a basic cable/satellite package typically isn't one of them. And from a general exposure/wider sports world perspective, games on ABC/ESPN networks tend to hit a lot of eyeballs.

The Fox networks cannot say the same thing, even under the deal described by SBD. Coverage on the broadcast Fox channel sounds good, but only if the game is carried nationally or if you live in a market getting the Minnesota game as part of it's regional coverage in that timeslot. It's possible that Fox could offer a mirror option, but since they don't have a channel that is equivalent to ESPN2 access to the mirror could be come more difficult. Fox Sports 1 is pretty well carried by most cable/satellite providers, but the number of eyeballs that see games on FS1 are much lower than even ESPNU in many cases. In other words, Minnesota fans can probably get to FS1 without too much trouble but it's unlikely that anyone else ends up watching the game.

What happens to the other half of the Big Ten rights?

Good question. The SBD article also includes the following note:

Fox’ deal is a blow to ESPN, which had held most of the conference’s rights previously. Sources said that ESPN presented a non-competitive bid several weeks ago, as the company continues to look for areas to save costs.

If the note about about ESPN putting up a very poor bid is true, you have to wonder what they might bid for the second set of media rights (assuming Fox gets the first set). Will they get more competitive to avoid losing the Big Ten altogether? Or will they view this as a good opportunity to shed costs to help reduce the overall impact of their current media rights burden now that they are facing significant losses due to cord cutting? No way to tell yet, but I find it unlikely that they look to cut the Big Ten completely out of their rights portfolio. Whether that means they'll field a better offer the next time around than the ones submitted by NBC or Turner remains to be seen.

What about kickoff times?

One other thing to keep an eye on is what a deal with Fox could mean for kickoff times. Fox has an existing deal with the Pac-12 that includes some "non-traditional" kickoff times from a Big Ten perspective (e.g. 3pm/3:30pm CT, 8pm CT, etc). In order to fit the slate of Big Ten games into the current programming windows it's possible the current 11am/2:30pm CT model might be shaken up a bit.

You didn't really talk about basketball though.

Yep. As with everything media rights/conference realignment related, basketball really doesn't matter. Also, Minnesota is pretty much relegated to BTN for the near future when it comes to basketball anyway so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

What does it all mean?

Honestly? We don't know yet. This is all just speculation and there are some really important details we need to fully understand the potential impact. But assuming these reports end up being mostly true the following general statements will probably prove accurate:

1) SCROOGE MCDUCK MONEY FOR EVERYONE! The Big Ten is going to make a bunch more money per year for it's schools. Potentially double the current yearly take for these first/second tier media rights.

2) You didn't want easier access to games anyway. At least half of the league's football and basketball games are going to be seen by fewer people and may prove to be harder to watch in general for even die hard Minnesota/B1G fans.

3) There is no way the Big Ten will allow #2 to ever be more important than #1.

Get the money
Dollar, dollar bill y'all