In June of last year, 26-year ESPN veteran Burke Magnus was promoted to president (programming and original content). His responsibilities include “rightsholder relationships, content strategy, and cross-platform programming rights acquisition and scheduling on a global basis.” Suffice it to say, if you want to know what’s happening at ESPN when it comes to broadcast rights and TV deals, Magnus is the person at the center of that discussion.
Magnus stopped by the Sports Media Podcast with Richard Deitsch this week and shared some valuable insight into the Worldwide Leader’s current relationships with some of the most notable leagues and sports entities in the nation as well as what the future might hold when many of those rights come up for renewal.
NEW SPORTS MEDIA PODCAST:
If you are interested in the future of ESPN and the business of sports media, I did an hour-long conversation this week with Burke Magnus, the president of programming and original content for ESPN. Topics below:https://t.co/W21JoZqkdV pic.twitter.com/fY8yIyWYUE
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) February 1, 2022
In late 2020, it was announced that, following the 2023-24 season, the SEC’s ballyhooed game of the week package and the SEC Championship would move to ABC as part of a 10-year, $3 billion deal that also included ESPN getting a bunch of additional SEC content as well.
Some have wondered if ESPN might push to start that deal sooner, rather than sit on its hands knowing it will be a few years before they can showcase the Iron Bowl or an Alabama vs. Georgia regular-season game. Magnus told Deitsch that while that’s not out of the realm of possibility, it’s certainly not going to happen because ESPN pushes for it.
“I’ll play a little bit of semantics here. I don’t think we’ll pursue it,” said Magnus. “There’s been a bunch of examples and a variety of different circumstances over the years where things have gone in that direction ultimately when they’re gonna be there anyway for a number of years, as you noted. But we’re not going to take that step proactively. It’s a conversation, I think, between CBS and the SEC. But certainly, we’re prepared if there’s any meaningful conversation to have prior to 2024. Although, all of our assumptions are that’s not going to happen at this point.”
While the SEC deal is set, the next college rights deal that is sure to make a seismic shift is for the Big Ten. While Ohio State’s dominance has drawn ratings for years, Michigan’s resurgence suddenly makes the Big Ten look as good as it ever has in terms of visibility and drawing power.
Unsurprisingly, Michigan-Ohio State is this year’s most-watched college football game, drawing nearly 16 million viewers https://t.co/RA101m38Aj pic.twitter.com/L6J2BlAK0t
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) December 1, 2021
The last time the conference’s rights package came up was in 2017 when the league agreed to a new TV rights deal that split football inventory between Fox and ESPN. Fox was given priority picks in most weeks, which is why they end up getting games like Michigan-Ohio State and the Big Ten Championship Game. That’s why Fox pays $240 million annually while ESPN pays $190 million. CBS also gets select Big Ten basketball games, for which they pay $10 million per year.
However, that deal ends after the 2022-23 season and just about every major network is lining up with interest. Along with Fox and ESPN, CBS would love to fill that upcoming SEC void with some Big Ten games. NBC is expected to make a run as well and even WarnerMedia has also been thrown out there as a potential suitor as well.
If I had to lay odds on new B10 rights deal:
+225 ESPN/Fox continue to split
+ 400 Fox takes all of Big Ten rights
+550 Fox and CBS split
+600 ESPN takes all of B10 rights (excludes BTN)
+ 1000 Some Fox and NBC or Warner split
+2500 Some ESPN and NBC or Warner split
— Ben Koo (@bkoo) December 13, 2021
So, where does ESPN stand in all of this and how badly do they want to continue to be in the Big Ten business?
“Badly,” said Magnus. “We go way back with the Big Ten. 1996 was the first time we had a Big Ten game on ABC…we go all the way back to that time with the Big Ten and we’ve been through a ton together. We’ve been their exclusive rights holder. We’ve shared. We’ve lived through the advent of the Big Ten Network. Fox and ESPN and the Big Ten Network and ABC make an incredible combination right now, so we intend to pursue it aggressively.
“We love the Big Ten. It fits perfectly into our portfolio. I don’t think I’m breaking any news here to suggest that it’s really important to our overall college football and college sports business…It’s just perfect for us and we hope very much to continue.”
The conversation shifted away from college sports towards the professional leagues. Specifically, the NBA, which signed a nine-year television deal with ESPN and Turner Sports in 2014 that runs through the 2024-25 season. In early 2021, reports came out suggesting that the NBA is looking to increase its annual payments from $2.6 billion to between $7 and $8 billion annually, essentially tripling the cost to rights holders.
Realistically or not, it presents a dilemma for ESPN as they try to balance their financial situation across each league and sport. But when asked, Magnus said that the NBA’s importance is second only to the NFL in terms of demographics and appeal.
“The thing that is underreported is the global appeal of the sport of basketball, which we think creates a huge runway for their content outside the U.S.,” said Magnus. “The best international players all flock to the NBA eventually. The demographics are strong and well-positioned for the changing demographics of our country. The team that [NBA commissioner Adam Silver] has assembled over there is so good and so smart and so forward-looking, it’s not at all, ‘what can you do for us?’ It’s very collaborative. It’s very forward-looking, tech-savvy, content-oriented. They have an enormous advantage over a lot of other sports in that their individual star players are brands in and of themselves.
“Behind only the NFL, in my opinion, they have a little bit of the secret sauce for us as a national telecaster, which is the ability for people to be interested in watching two teams compete that aren’t their team if that makes sense?… I’m a huge New York Knicks fan. I will watch anything Knicks-oriented anytime. But anytime you tell me ‘LeBron and KD’ or ‘Steph and Harden’ or any of the Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Giannis, any combination of those great players, I’m watching. It’s got that kind of crossover appeal, it’s not just about your team.
“It’s a great partnership, it’s a great relationship. The people are alright if you know what I mean. We get along very well. It’s incredibly important, both now and going forward.”
You can listen to the full discussion here.