SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren expects to have an agreement in place on a new media rights deal for the conference in about one month’s time, he told CBS Sports on Monday.
The new deal, which would begin in 2023, could be worth a record-setting $1 billion per season, according to Sports Business Journal, which reported that Fox Sports already has a deal in place to renew its part of the deal. Warren did not confirm that report.
Warren said he soon expects a “memorandum of understanding” — common industry document that precedes a formal contract — to be agreed upon between the Big Ten and its rightsholders near the end of the month.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to — as we get around Memorial Day, or soon thereafter — know what our structure is, who are partners will be and what it will look like,” Warren said in an interview during the Big Ten spring meetings. “This will be a very, very busy month.”
Some industry sources believe the Memorial Day timeline might be optimistic, but the Big Ten’s deal remains a hot topic. The conference’s rights are considered important in the industry because they will help set the market for subsequent negotiations in other conferences. The Big Ten remains a television giant with a quarter of the U.S. population living within its footprint that reaches from the Atlantic Ocean (Maryland, Rutgers) to the Midwest (Nebraska).
The main issue at hand for the Big Ten, according to industry sources, is deciding whether to give Fox all its rights, split those rights as they presently do with ESPN, or take a different road: find a partner besides ESPN or attempt to expand even further.
Warren stressed the presence of seven suitors in negotiations: CBS, NBC, TNT, Apple and Amazon in addition to Fox and ESPN. He would not say whether the league favored one, two or multiple partners as it considers its options.
“This is not about who wins the deal,” Warren said. “It’s not only about distributing content, but it’s all the other things that go into it. Football is critically important.”
Warren has final say on whatever deal is struck. Former commissioner Jim Delany signed a short six-year, $2.65 billion deal in 2017 that allowed the conference to capitalize on the shifting marketplace. The Big Ten is in place to make a deal before the Pac-12 (deal expires in 2024) and the Big 12 (2025). The SEC’s new deal with ESPN begins in 2024.
“Once you come to an agreement and get your term sheets done, that’s when lawyers can go to work drafting long-form deals,” Warren explained. “Hopefully, a couple of months after that, once you get term sheets done and an agreement, then it’s done.”
A $1 billion annual deal would project to an average of $71 million per school, per year. For now, that would be a record. It also raises ongoing concerns about player compensation with schools raking in millions while athletes continue to expand their earning opportunities through name, image and likeness rights.
“This is a critical month,” Warren said of the TV negotiations. “When we talk again in 30 days, I’ll have an answer. We knew May, the tone has been set. But we’re at the point right now where we’re starting to put things in order and have some series discussions.”