SBJ Media: Big Ten talks in the home stretch – Sports Business Journal

I’m heading on vacation to the Delaware shore next week, which undoubtedly means that this will be one of the busiest weeks of the year!
Barring a last-minute change of direction in the Big Ten’s media rights negotiations, ESPN will be without the conference’s football and basketball games for the first time in 40 years. With Big Ten negotiations nearing an end — I’m told agreements could be reached by the end of this week or push into next — CBS and NBC have emerged as the clear front runners to pick up Big Ten rights alongside Fox Sports.
ESPN still is negotiating with the conference, and as long as they’re talking there remains the possibility ESPN could wind up with a package. Remember, Chicago-born Bob Chapek graduated from Indiana and earned an MBA from Michigan State, creating deep Big Ten roots between the conference and Disney leadership that can’t be overlooked. Conversations with several sources describe ESPN on the outside looking in with a bid that is not big enough to secure a deal. All it takes is a Chapek phone call to increase that bid.
Fox agreed to the “A” package months ago. As part of its deal, it will carry a football game on the broadcast network at noon ET, plus football games on its cable channels FS1 and BTN, in which it holds a 60% stake.
The conference’s deals with CBS and NBC are not finalized. But it looks like the two networks are in the lead to split a “B” package. CBS would pick up games for the 3:30pm ET window, and NBC would carry games in primetime. NBC’s streaming service, Peacock, also would wind up carrying some games. Amazon has bid on these packages, but sources described CBS and NBC as the clear front-runners.
The Big Ten is expected to be the first college conference to eclipse $1 billion per year in rights fees once all is said and done.
If ESPN does not get a package, it would end one of the longest-standing sports media relationships in the business. ABC started carrying Big Ten games in 1966, and ESPN cut its first deal with the conference in 1982.
If ESPN moves on from the Big Ten, look for the company to be especially aggressive in trying to secure Big 12 and Pac-12 rights, as well as renewing its deals with the NCAA Championships and College Football Playoffs.
ESPN personality Paul Finebaum is set to make a hefty $700,000 advance plus royalties on his upcoming book about the Nick Saban-Jimbo Fisher feud, SBJ’s Michael Smith reports.
Finebaum, the longtime authority on the SEC, is working with Penguin Press on the yet-to-be-titled book that will dig into what prompted the legendary Alabama coach to go after his former assistant, who is now the head coach at Texas A&M, over name, image and likeness issues. Saban said the Aggies “bought every player” in their highly ranked recruiting class.
Fisher fired back by calling Saban’s comments “despicable.” Saban later apologized for starting the spat. The salty back-and-forth is one of the most compelling stories in college football, especially given the relationships involved.
When they gathered in Atlanta last month for SEC Media Days, both coaches tried to simmer the heated dispute. But there’s apparently much more to the story, which will be the focus of Finebaum’s book. Finebaum’s monetary advance speaks to the interest in the topic as well as Finebaum’s status as the voice of the SEC to tell it.
AL.com’s John Talty is consulting with Finebaum on the book, which is expected to be ready in time for the 2023 football season.
Pete Bevacqua — the former PGA of America CEO who oversees NBC’s golf coverage on the broadcast network, USA, Golf Channel and Peacock — defended the PGA Tour as it faces a threat from LIV Golf.
“We don’t have our heads in the sand — of course, we are following everything that is going on in the world of golf extremely closely,” he said. “We want a strong Tour, want the best players in the world to play week-in and week-out on the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour.”
NBC, which owns Golf Channel and the GolfNow businesses, has more than a passing interest in making sure that the PGA Tour remains strong, even as many of its players have migrated to LIV.
Bevacqua: “We feel confident that the best players in the world are going to continue to compete on the PGA Tour and continue to try to make Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams and continue to play in the major championships in golf. That’s really where our bread has been buttered and where we have placed all of our golf chips for the foreseeable future.”
In this week’s SBJ, Austin Karp and I wrote about the PGA Tour’s ratings performance over the past five years, which has been relatively steady
Bevacqua said he’s been happy with the PGA Tour’s performance on NBC, specifically citing Tony Finau, who recently won two tournaments in a row, and Rory McIlroy, who has become the Tour’s most vocal supporter in the face of the LIV threat.
“Putting aside the noise, golf is having a really strong season,” Bevacqua said. “We’re sitting here on the eve of the FedEx Cup, which promises to be amazing, going into a President’s Cup at Quail Hollow that should be wonderful. We’re excited about that.”
In our PGA Tour ratings story, we noted that this year’s Travelers Championship that was won by Xander Schauffele posted a 36% drop on CBS this year. I heard from Travelers, which pointed out that last year’s rating included an 8-hole playoff that ran into the “60 Minutes” timeslot. “If we compare the same time period of 3-6pm year-over-year, our 1.6 rating in 2022 compares closely with a 1.7 rating in 2021.”
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