As we learned today, ESPN has managed to retain a portion of the Big Ten media rights that were available after Fox snatched the main portion earlier this year. In addition to ESPN and Fox, CBS has kept its basketball rights meaning that the conference’s media partners will remain the same, but how you watch the games especially for football and basketball will change.
For those who watch Big Ten Network, nothing will change, It will still carry 35-40 football games and 60-65 in-conference basketball games and selected tournaments games. Fox has 51% ownership of the Big Ten Network, but now by getting half of the main Big Ten contract it adds to its college sports portfolio and brings some big games to FS1.
As for ESPN/ABC, you won’t watch the major football and basketball games after this season. Starting with the 2017-18 season and going through 2022-23, the ESPN family won’t be the main network for the Big Ten. That now shifts to Fox which will have first pick of the football games for much of the season. In addition to keeping the Big Ten Football Championship, expect to see games like Michigan-Ohio State, Michigan-Michigan State and other big conference games on Fox/FS1. ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC will continue to air Big Ten football, but ESPNU which carried its share of conference football games will see a reduced schedule to almost none.
And with Fox taking the main portion of the football and basketball schedule, you can expect to have Gus Johnson assigned to a bulk of those games. While Fox has entered the college sports realm through its Big 12 and Pac-12 contracts, to get the Big Ten is a huge feather in its cap. It now will have some marquee games to promote and bring viewers to FS1.
For the six seasons covered in the new contract, fans will have to get used to seeing Fox as the main rightsholder for the Big Ten. Its campaign to show the conference it can be a destination for big events apparently worked. Also the money helped as well, but overall, Fox needed the Big Ten more than the Big Ten needed Fox.
CBS will continue to be the home of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament semifinals and final plus a handful of regular season games. Fox will begin to air conference basketball games in 2017 and fans will probably hear Gus Johnson call those as well.
While ESPN won’t get the marquee conference games, it still retains its share and stays with a conference that has been a partner dating back several decades. Plus, it sends a message to the other conferences that the Worldwide Leader won’t be getting out of the college sports business anytime soon.
So for the 2017-18 season and beyond, Big Ten fans will have to add Fox and FS1 to their channel lineups and get ready for some Fox attitude on the games.