Big Ten aims to have a new media rights deal, worth up to $1 billion, in effect around Memorial Day

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren expects to have a deal on a new media rights deal for the conference in about a month, he told CBS Sports on Monday.

The new deal, which would start in 2023, could be worth a record $1 billion a season, according to Sports Business Journal, which reported that Fox Sports already has an agreement to renew its end of the deal. Warren did not confirm this report.

Warren said he expects soon a “memorandum of understanding” – a common industry document that precedes a formal contract – to be agreed between the Big Ten and their rights holders towards the end of the month.

“Hopefully we can — when we get to Memorial Day, or soon after — know what our structure is, who the partners are going to be and what it’s going to be like,” Warren said in an interview during the Big Ten spring meetings. “This is going to be a very, very busy month.”

Some industry sources believe the Memorial Day timeline may be optimistic, but the Big Ten deal remains a hot topic. Conference rights are considered important in the industry because they will help define the market for later negotiations at other conferences. The Big Ten remains a television behemoth with a quarter of the US population living within its footprint stretching from the Atlantic Ocean (Maryland, Rutgers) to the Midwest (Nebraska).

The main issue for the Big Ten, according to industry sources, is deciding whether to give Fox all their rights, split those rights as they currently do with ESPN, or take a different path: find a partner besides ESPN or try expand further.

Warren highlighted the presence of seven suitors in the negotiations: CBS, NBC, TNT, Apple and Amazon, in addition to Fox and ESPN. He did not say whether the league favored one, two or multiple partners as he considers his options.

“It’s not about who wins the deal,” Warren said. “It’s not just about distributing content, it’s about all the other things involved. Football is extremely important.”

Warren has the final word on any deal that is struck. Former commissioner Jim Delany signed a six-year, $2.65 billion short deal in 2017 that allowed the conference to capitalize on the changing market. The Big Ten is ready to make a deal before the Pac-12 (deal expires in 2024) and the Big 12 (2025). The SEC’s new agreement with ESPN begins in 2024.

“Once you’ve reached an agreement and finished your terms, that’s where lawyers can work on crafting long-term agreements,” Warren explained. “Hopefully, a few months after that, once you have the terms sheets ready and a deal is done, then it’s done.”

A $1 billion annual deal would project an average of $71 million per school, per year. For now, it would be a record. It also raises ongoing concerns about player compensation with schools raising millions as athletes continue to expand their earning opportunities through naming, image and likeness rights.

“This is a critical month,” Warren said of the TV talks. “When we speak again in 30 days, I’ll have an answer. We knew from May, the tone was set. But we’re at the point where we’re starting to get things straightened out and have some serial discussions.”

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