All but one of the major college conferences have been signed and locked into long-term media rights deals. The only one remaining is the Big Ten Conference whose contract expires in 2016. Currently, ESPN/ABC has first-tier rights in a $1 billion deal that was signed in 2007. Fox has a presence through its 49% share of the Big Ten Network and the rights to the Big Ten Football Championship. With the negotiations for the new TV contract set to begin in 2015, expect Fox to bid heavily to increase its rights to the league. And as Rutgers and Maryland enter the conference next year bringing with them the New York and Baltimore-Washington, DC markets, the rights for the Big Ten could potentially double.
In a report in the Cedar Rapids (IA) Gazette, Fox Sports programming executive Mark Mulvihill tells Scott Dochterman "we will certainly be an active participant in next round of Big Ten rights talks." Of course, any Fox bid would include the Fox Television Network, Fox Sports 1 and shoulder programming for Fox Sports Net affiliates in the conference footprint (think YES in New York, the Fox Sports Nets in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota and beyond).
However, incumbent ESPN won't let this go without a fight. But with an increased membership, the inventory might be too much for one network. As the co-author of "Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN," James Andrew Miller told me in this week's Sports Media Weekly podcast (which also features AA Fearless Leader Matt Yoder), "That's a pretty big package for somebody to take on all their own. I would expect that one to be split. I'm sure ESPN would be interested in that as well. Fox has a big stake in the Big Ten through the Big Ten Network itself and I think that they want that product as well. There might be some sort of sharing like with the NBA with ESPN and Turner."
There is precedent for ESPN and Fox to share a contract as they currently do with the Big 12 and Pac-12. Before Fox Sports 1 came to fruition, ESPN and Fox bid jointly for the two conferences as a way to keep NBC Sports Group from gaining a foothold in college sports. The two probably will not bid together for the Big Ten, but may have to share the riches in order to keep NBC out once again.
With ESPN, Fox, NBC and possibly CBS sitting at the negotiating table, this will be the last major sports property up for bid until the PGA Championship in 2019 so it will shape the sports media landscape well into the next decade.