Thanks to the growing numbers of long-term deals out there, the Big Ten’s main TV rights (currently in a 10-year, $1 billion deal with ESPN that expires in 2017) are one of the only major packages coming up for bids this year, and that’s sparked plenty of interest from a wide variety of networks, which is now turning into a plotline worthy of a reality TV dating show. There have been numerous reports that Fox (which owns 51 per cent of the Big Ten Network and has been rumored to be targeting the conference for a while) has landed a huge (up to $250 million annually) deal for half of the conference’s rights, but those haven’t been officially confirmed yet. The leading theory was that ESPN might pick up the other half and continue that relationship, but they reportedly came in with an offer well below Fox’s, so that relationship may be on the rocks. The marriage analogy Northwestern AD Jim Phillips gave to Andrew Seligman of The Associated Press certainly suggests the Big Ten isn’t necessarily committed to continuing with ESPN:
”No one has amnesia about the relationship we’ve had with ESPN,” Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said. ”They’ve been wonderful partners. But we’re at a different place – and I think they’re in a different place – in 2016 than we were in the last round. That doesn’t mean that we can’t get to the altar together and get married again, but we’re at the dating stage right now. That’s a process, and that always occurs when you go through a renegotiation. You certainly love to continue to stay married with that current partner. But ultimately, you have to do what’s in the best interests of the 14 institutions.”
So, in this analogy, the Big Ten and ESPN are already divorced and “in a different place,” and at “the dating stage,” but considering going back “to the altar together”? You have to wonder how their open relationship with Fox will work, though. (And given that Fox owns 51 per cent of the Big Ten Network, with the conference owning 49 per cent, does that make them the baby mama here?) Maybe the Big Ten negotiations should play out on a dating reality show, or possibly on Maury? We have to appreciate Phillips’ colorful analogy here, and the fun it can lead to. Sadly, commissioner Jim Delany’s comments to Seligman were much less analogy-filled, but they do reinforce the sense that the Big Ten isn’t going to stick with ESPN at all costs:
”I wouldn’t talk about walking away from anybody or walking toward anybody,” Delany said Wednesday. ”We’re interested in having great partners that have great platforms that are interested in marketing and promotion, and the market will decide what happens. ESPN’s been a great partner. CBS has. Fox has. So it’s a new day, and we approach it that way.”
Tune in next time for another exciting episode of The Bachelor: Big Ten!