We finally know what ESPN gave Fox Sports in order to land Joe Buck.
Deals like this aren’t unprecedented; most famously, perhaps, was the 2006 deal between NBC and Disney that gave Disney back the rights to an old cartoon character in exchange for letting Al Michaels join the new Sunday Night Football booth.
Both before and after the Buck news broke, there were rumors and reports that ESPN and Fox could center negotiations around college football game choices this fall, specifically as part of their shared Big Ten rights. Thanks to John Ourand at the Sports Business Journal, we now know what ESPN gave up and how it played out. In the end, the deal is pretty simple: in exchange for letting Buck walk a year early, Fox will get the right to air Penn State’s game at Purdue, scheduled for Thursday, September 1st.
Ourand does a great job in his piece laying out how the ESPN and Fox deal works, noting that before the season the networks essentially choose weeks in which they want to have the first pick of games. The deal gives Fox the first week pick every year, which they almost always use on Ohio State-Michigan. This year ESPN would likely use their top pick on the Saturday window of Labor Day weekend to secure the Ohio State-Notre Dame game.
According to Ourand, Fox decided that adding Penn State-Purdue as a new primetime option was worth letting Buck leave early:
Fox Sports wanted to claim that Penn State-Purdue game as its extra game. ESPN agreed, saying that it would not pick that game’s window, and Fox could have it as the 54th and final pick of the selection process. Typically, that game window would have been one of the top 30 picks. The game was not as valuable to ESPN, which has a West Virginia-Pittsburgh game scheduled for that night.
In the end, this is less than some speculated ESPN would need to give up, but it’s still a solid value-add for Fox. Penn State remains a brand name attraction in college football, and Jeff Brohm’s Purdue teams are at the very least filled with chaos potential. Fox might have ended up with the window as part of the normal draft process, but viewing it as a draft, the way this deal worked essentially gives Fox an extra pick while also removing the need for Fox to use a top-30 selection to secure the game.
If Buck wanted out, forcing him to stay for one more season would have been very poor talent management, especially considering the service Buck had put in for decades. Ourand does intriguingly note that ESPN was prepared to turn to Al Michaels if Fox had asked for too much, although we’ll never really know how that might have played out.
In the end, it feels like a fairly equitable move for all parties, with the small added irony of Indiana alum Joe Buck being exchanged for a Purdue football home game.