US college sports league Big Ten inks $7.5bn media rights deal

Top US media companies CBS, Comcast’s NBC and Fox have agreed to pay roughly $7.5bn over seven years to show Big Ten college sports, according to a person familiar with the matter, a record contract that underscores broadcasters’ continued willingness to pay a premium for live sports.

The rights agreement begins next year and will last throughout the 2029-2030 college sport season. Its value is likely to increase as two popular universities in Los Angeles, the second-largest US media market, are set to join the Big Ten in 2024.

The addition of the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Southern California will make the formerly Midwestern-focused Big Ten — whose members currently include the University of Michigan, Ohio State University and the University of Nebraska — into the first coast-to-coast collegiate sporting conference, driving up the value of its media distribution rights.

The rights across the three media companies include American football, which is a consistent ratings draw in the US, along with a full slate of college sports such as basketball and Olympic sports such as swimming.

“Major sports, from professional to college, continue to prove their value,” Peter Bevacqua, chair of NBC Sports, told the Financial Times. The terms of the agreement allow NBC to showcase American football on both primetime television and its proprietary streaming network, Peacock, with additional games and sports to become available on the subscription streaming service.

Bevacqua said the programming would be an “unbelievable shot in the arm for Peacock” at a time when media companies are seeking to lure viewers to direct-to-consumer digital services, but added that the overall value of the Big Ten rights were “a testament to the power of linear television”.

Over the past year, the $14bn US college sports industry has been going through tremendous upheaval. A Supreme Court decision last summer sided with student athletes over their governing body, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, paving the way for restrictions to be loosened on athlete sponsorships. That prompted universities such as USC and UCLA to consolidate power in competitive conferences such as the Big Ten while the NCAA reconsiders its governance model.

“The Big Ten Conference media rights agreements are more than just dollars and deals,” commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “They are a mechanism to provide stability and maximum exposure for our student-athletes, member institutions and partners during these uncertain times in collegiate athletics.”

Negotiations for the Big Ten’s media rights were already under way when USC and UCLA announced their defection, according to Bevacqua. “I would tell you we were unbelievably motivated and 100 per cent interested in making this happen prior to [the moves],” he added.

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