Big Ten positioned for big payday — as in a billion per year — in next TV deals

Its contracts with Fox/BTN, ESPN/ABC and CBS expire after the 2022-23 seasons. Once its exclusive negotiating window with ESPN ends, the action will heat up.

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Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren is spearheading the TV talks. The conference’s chancellors and presidents hired him hoping he can replicate his business success in the NFL.

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To describe the Big Ten’s standing as it begins negotiations to sell its media rights, it feels appropriate to use football parlance: The conference has great field position and is driving for a certain touchdown.

The Big Ten’s contracts with Fox/BTN, ESPN/ABC and CBS expire after the 2022-23 season, and the networks are lining up again to seal new deals, with another suitor likely to join them. The conference is in an exclusive negotiating window with ESPN, but the action will heat up when time runs out.

‘‘There are a lot of buyers in the marketplace, and when that happens, it’s just basic economics,’’ said Mark Rudner, the former Big Ten senior associate commissioner of television administration, who retired from the role in 2020. ‘‘When you have a lot of interested buyers and you’re selling a product that’s in demand, you can do pretty well.’’

Fox, which shares ownership of Big Ten Network with the conference, figures to have the inside track on retaining its share of the rights. For football, Fox has built up its ‘‘Big Noon Saturday’’ time slot on the strength of Big Ten matchups. The network also has made FS1 a regular destination for football and basketball. ESPN and the Big Ten have had a relationship since the network launched in 1979.

CBS is airing only basketball from the Big Ten but, with the SEC leaving for ESPN in 2024, figures to make a run at Big Ten football to fill its 2:30 p.m. Central window that has been devoted to the SEC. NBC also is expected to be in the mix. The network only airs Notre Dame home games, and the Big Ten would fill in the gaps and make for potentially appealing doubleheaders with the Irish.

CBS and NBC surely will try to sell the Big Ten on their streaming services (Paramount+ and Peacock, respectively), but sports fans haven’t committed themselves to the digital world yet. Live televised sports still draw the most viewers.

So how much money might the new deals put in the Big Ten’s coffers? Industry insiders think the conference could bring at least close to the $1 billion annual average predicted in reports by Sports Business Journal and Front Office Sports. The conference is earning $440 million annually from its current deals, which began in 2017.

The timing of those six-year contracts was no accident. They expire before the Pac-12 and Big 12 TV deals end. Plus, the ACC in 2016 tethered itself to ESPN into 2036 and the SEC in 2020 did the same into 2034. There’s no one to compete with the Big Ten.

That’s where commissioner Kevin Warren comes in. He’s spearheading the TV talks, and he’ll be in his element. The Big Ten’s chancellors and presidents hired him hoping he could replicate his business success elsewhere, particularly with the NFL’s Vikings. From 2015 to 2019, he helped improve the team’s sponsorship revenue from 32nd in the league to fifth.

Of course, the Big Ten sells itself. Rudner, who had been involved in TV talks since 1989, noted anecdotal evidence: More homes outside the Big Ten’s footprint have access to BTN than those inside the footprint; when he retired, there were more Big Ten graduates living in Arizona than Pac-12 graduates; and the Big Ten has more living graduates than any conference in the country.

‘‘When we were doing regional telecasts with ABC way back when,’’ Rudner said, ‘‘ABC had a habit of putting Big Ten football games on affiliates in Florida because of the snowbirds, of the people who are transplanted.’’

It’s Warren’s job to maximize the Big Ten’s position. Much like the basic economics Rudner spoke of, the Big Ten will benefit from basic math: Its sizable audience will add up to a sizable payday.

Remote patrol

NFL broadcaster free agency went into overdrive with the New York Post’s report that Troy Aikman is expected to leave Fox and become the lead analyst for ESPN’s ‘‘Monday Night Football.’’ Aikman’s deal runs through the 2026-27 season, which is when ESPN/ABC will air the Super Bowl.

It’s unclear what will become of the current ‘‘MNF’’ booth of Steve Levy, Louis Riddick and Brian Griese. As for Aikman’s replacement at Fox, former Bears tight end Greg Olsen has earned rave reviews on the network’s No. 2 team. He could make the jump to the top sooner than expected.

• WGN-TV will air the Fire’s season opener against Inter Miami at 5 p.m. Saturday, its first of 29 local broadcasts this season. Play-by-play voice Tyler Terens and analyst Tony Meola will be the regular crew, and Arlo White, NBC’s voice of the Premier League, will call select games. The opener will be preceded by a half-hour season-preview show.

• ESPN 1000 will air the ‘‘CDGA Golf Show’’ from 7 to 9 a.m. Sundays beginning April 3. Tyler Aki and Barry Cronin, editor of the Chicago District Golfer magazine, will host.

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