The Big Ten Is Wisely Copying the NFL’s Strategy That Makes It the Wealthiest Sports League in the U.S.

The NFL is the most popular sports league in America, but the top conferences in college football also have strong fanbases. The SEC and Big Ten are often thought of as the two best conferences. In recent years, new TV deals these conferences have signed solidify that stance.

The Big Ten’s media rights deal in particular is very lucrative. The league that boasts schools like Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State is copying the NFL’s long-time TV strategy to become the richest college conference in the country.

The Big Ten signs a massive new TV contract

The Big Ten’s new TV deal, which kicks in with the 2023 football season, gives it the richest-ever television agreement for a college athletic league, as the New York Times reports. With streaming becoming increasingly popular, TV networks are increasingly turning to popular sports leagues to attract viewers.

That has helped the Big Ten sign a seven-year agreement with Fox, CBS, and NBC. It’ll pay the conference at least $1 billion annually, more than double the $430 million payout the conference gets annually under its expiring contract with Fox and ESPN. It also dwarfs the SEC’s upcoming deal with ESPN. This deal starts a year later, which is valued at less than half of the Big Ten’s take.

An NFL-type strategy pays off for the Big Ten

Barry Alvarez, Special Advisor for Football for the Big Ten Conference, speaks during the 2022 Big Ten Conference Football Media Days
Special Advisor for Football for the Big Ten Conference Barry Alvarez at the 2022 Big Ten Conference | Michael Hickey/Getty Images

A major factor in the Big Ten getting such a big increase is the conference decided to copy the NFL’s TV deal for its new contract. Every Sunday during the NFL season, both Fox and CBS air at least one NFL game. NBC gets one of the week’s top games in primetime on Sunday Night Football.

Those same three networks are involved in the Big Ten’s new contract. Each of networks essentially locks into a time slot that gives the Big Ten a tripleheader on broadcast TV during most weeks of the season.

Fox has cemented the noon ET slot as its prime college football window. It will feature Big Ten games as part of the new deal. CBS gives the Big Ten a weekly showcase in the 3:30 pm ET window where the network has aired top SEC games since 1996.

NBC, which traditionally hasn’t aired much college football other than Notre Dame games, will cap off Big Ten Saturdays starting next season. The network will feature the conference’s games in prime time slots, giving it primetime football on both Saturdays and Sundays.

New TV deals cement the Big Ten-SEC competition

The Big Ten became the first college conference to earn a deal that averages at least $1 billion annually in part by taking the 3:30 pm time slot on CBS currently occupied by the SEC. That is possible because that conference has not renewed its contract with CBS. In 2020, it signed a new deal with Disney giving the parent company of ESPN and ABC all of the SEC’s college football inventory.

The new SEC deal, which kicks in starting in 2024, pays it at least $300 million annually. This number could go up with Texas and Oklahoma entering the conference beginning in 2025. These two additions were announced after the deal was signed.

The new TV deals for the Big Ten and SEC are significantly larger than what any other college conferences get for their media rights. It ensures that the conferences will remain at the top of the college football landscape for the foreseeable future. The conferences will be jockeying for position atop the NCAA football world. And the coverage they’ll receive from their TV partners will ensure the games are seen by the biggest audiences nationwide.

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