Big Ten Network has been an enormous success for the conference and the envy of other college football leagues throughout the country who want to emulate its prosperity and the significant revenues the channel has generated. The SEC Network and Pac-12 Networks have launched, and the ACC Network is almost ready to go, but they’re following a path laid out by the Big Ten.

Approaching its 10-year anniversary, BTN is currently in 60 million households and generating up to $15 million for each of the Big Ten’s member schools.

But that success hardly occurred overnight. Seeking to create better TV rights deals and national exposure for the conference, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany had many battles with cable and satellite providers in an effort to get BTN distributed on systems around the country.

The Big Ten needed an established partner who could help distribute the network across various providers or utilize households and markets that it already controlled. As detailed by SportsBusiness Journal’s Michael Smith and John Ourand, Delany and the consultants he hired zeroed in on Comcast as a potential partner because of the foothold it had throughout the Big Ten’s territory in the Midwest.

The Big Ten talked to Comcast for six months about partnering up, but the cable conglomerate wouldn’t agree to any sort of venture. Frustrated with Comcast’s lack of commitment, Delany moved on to Fox as a potential partner.

“Comcast blew it,” Kevin O’Malley told SBJ. O’Malley was someone with whom Delany consulted for his experience as a former CBS and Turner executive.

“They were sitting on all of this cash. They were fat and happy, but they just didn’t treat Jim like he had something of importance. Jim would walk out of those meetings with steam coming out of his ears.”

As it turned out, Fox was a better partner for BTN anyway. The company had experience launching channels such as National Geographic and owned DirecTV, providing a major chunk of households that could carry Big Ten Network. Having DirecTV as a distributor gave BTN leverage in discussions with cable providers.

Comcast eventually added Big Ten Network to its lineup in 2008, but could have had a much larger stake of what’s become an impressive success story. Ten years later, it looks like a regrettable mistake and a notable misstep for the cable giant. (But maybe Comcast was apprehensive after partnering with CSTV on “The mtn.,” the MountainWest Sports Network, in 2006. That didn’t go so well.)

However, that was only one part of a long process of finding distribution, convincing skeptics and paving entirely new territory for the Big Ten Network, as SportsBusiness Journal details. It’s definitely worth a read.

[SportsBusiness Journal]

About Ian Casselberry

Ian is an editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has covered baseball for Yahoo! Sports,, Bleacher Report and SB Nation, and provides analysis for several sports talk radio shows each week. He currently lives in Asheville, NC.

  • These negotiations would have been right around the time Comcast was transforming OLN into Versus, and a few years before they merged with NBC. They were having carriage issues of their own, since the sales pitch was “We’re taking on ESPN with the NHL, and the Tour de France, and… well… the same old hunting and fishing shows. But only for now!” Trying to launch the first single-conference network at the same time was probably more than Comcast thought they could handle at that time.

    • Walt_Gekko

      Very true. Also, while College Football’s popularity was growing in 2008, it was nowhere near where it is now.

      Had Comcast landed the BTN, it likely also would have meant Big 10 games on NBCSN (all sports, not just football) and NBC (Football and Basketball) with perhaps what is now the Olympic Channel becoming perhaps NBCSU (NBC Sports University) with Ohio State-Michigan in most years likely on NBC and especially by now Lorne Michaels (longtime Executive Producer of Saturday Night Live) demanding OSU-Michigan air in prime time ahead of SNL (and having enough power to force it on OSU and Michigan). It also likely would have meant when Notre Dame’s TV deal was up for renewal, NBC requiring Notre Dame to join the Big 10 in expansion, including Football but guaranteed of having all home games on NBC.

  • MrSchimpf

    It probably worked out better in the end not having Comcast as the part-owner of the network; at the time Charter and Time Warner were the largest systems in the Big 10 footprint, and now merged as Spectrum, they are still by far, while Comcast’s presence is limited to large markets, PA and some small areas (example; they have ONE system in the entirety of Wisconsin). Consider at the time too that CSN was still being built up in Chicago, and it was better to just not take the partnership and let Fox build it up. The last thing Comcast wanted to do was build a network that Charter/TWC would be adverse to carry as a competitor and turn it into a new mtn. debacle.

  • xxnatedoggxx

    I guess comcast is salty here, BTN is not in HD while the pac-12 network and SEC network are.