Saturday September 30, 2023

How The Big Ten’s Blockbuster Media Deal Impacts Basketball

  • Streaming will play a bigger role in both men’s and women’s coverage.
  • The absence of ESPN poses some questions.
Jenna Watson/IndyStar
Front Office Sports Today

Donovan McNabb and the State of Football

From Taylor Swift to the Prime Effect, there's a lot going on in the world of football.
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September 29, 2023 | Podcast
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On Thursday, the Big Ten announced the largest media rights package in the history of college sports — a deal in the mid-$7 billion range that spans across Fox, CBS, NBC, and Peacock.

The conference laid out a clear plan for what the deal means for Big Ten football — namely, that marquee Saturday games will be spread across cable and streaming networks to “dominate” the landscape. 

But what will the future of Big Ten hoops look like?

The Breakdown

Of all the networks, Fox has the top package of Big Ten sports — and that won’t change in the upcoming deal. The network has renewed its existing men’s basketball coverage, and the Big Ten Network, owned by FOX, will carry a significant number of men’s and women’s games.

NBC and CBS will also have a new role in elevating Big Ten basketball.

As it has in the past, CBS will air regular-season and postseason men’s basketball, including the Big Ten men’s semifinals and championship. But the network will air the Big Ten women’s title game for the first time, bringing women’s hoops to new heights.

Following a sports industry trend, streaming will play a major role. All basketball games on CBS, for example, will be simul-streamed on Paramount+, while Peacock will air 47 regular-season men’s games and 30 regular-season women’s games.

ESPN is conspicuously missing from this list, without any Big Ten sports rights for the first time in four decades. 

The most immediately affected property could be the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The fate of the non-conference basketball matchup is still unclear, a source told Front Office Sports.

Women’s Hoops Visibility

School and Big Ten officials believe the new media deal will increase women’s basketball visibility. 

“The impact of this contract will be monumental in our recruiting efforts, reaching new fans and continuing to provide viewership to grow our game,” Illinois women’s basketball coach Shauna Green said in a statement. “This is a game changer for the Big Ten.” 

Green specifically pointed to the women’s championship, which will be elevated to a primary channel rather than be broadcast on ESPN2. 

But the current marquee home for women’s college basketball is on ESPN networks — which holds the rights to the increasingly valuable Division I women’s basketball tournament (and which ESPN will attempt to retain in its next round of negotiations). 

ESPN’s programming could provide less coverage of Big Ten women’s hoops in general — a common consequence with broadcasting rights. The Big East, for example, has gotten less visibility on ESPN after severing its relationship with the broadcaster.

The men’s teams don’t have this issue, as many of their matchups will appear on the same network as the Division I men’s basketball tournament.

The question is whether the Big Ten’s streaming capabilities, potentially elevated windows on Fox, and championship game on CBS will be enough to bridge that gap.

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