How an unfinished TV deal led to an unexpectedly hectic first month for the new Big Ten commissioner-News

When the Big Ten announced Tony Petitti as its new Commissioner nearly a month ago, he listed four important things to his tenure as one of the most powerful people in college sports.

The league is set to merge USC and UCLA in the 2024-2025 season, explore a new media rights agreement for additional College Football Playoff games and focus on name, image and brand issues.

Finally, Petitti prioritized formal completion television’s biggest competition More than $7 billion that he negotiated with his predecessor, Kevin Warren. The matter seemed like a formality, but the difficulties of the partnership that many people enjoy began as soon as they accepted the job.

About three months before the start of the season and media coverage, the Big Ten has yet to finalize long-term contracts, which also include a lot of media coverage. Instead, Petitti is doing the “horse-trading” necessary, according to multiple sources, to end NBC’s prime-time deal and face what the network calls “significant challenges” to raise the price as much as possible.

“This action did not happen, and it is not what was represented by the NBC contract and the availability of all the members to participate in the November game in the first time,” said an industry source.

Interviews with about a dozen sources in and around the Big Ten and the college sports industry paint a picture of Petitti rushing to look for information that hasn’t been changed from his predecessor.

As a result, there are disgruntled athletic directors seeing money disappear from their programs, disgruntled movie directors and celebrity coaches outraged by the lack of transparency in details that were not disclosed to them.

Kevin Warren took over as Big Ten Commissioner in January 2020, and after just three years in charge, he dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, helped bring USC and UCLA into the conference by changing the format, and secured big TV. payday before returning to the NFL as team president and CEO of the Chicago Bears.

When he accepted the job, he said he was leaving the Big Ten in “a very good place,” which was true financially because his schools earned more money than any other league during the deal. His work to add USC and UCLA, who joined the conference after the 2023-24 season, was greatly appreciated by the members and contributed to the TV contract.

On campus, it’s very confusing. Big Ten schools have seen potential spending in the past few months from a deal announced in August that is worth about $1 billion a year through the 2029 season. More than $70 million in total increases — about $5 million per school — and have left administrators in the league seeking answers and calling for financial accountability.

Recently, schools have found:

  • They must return about $ 40 million to Fox because, according to sources, Warren gave NBC the Big Ten sports game in 2026 without full power to do so. All this happened because of the problems of the Big Ten conference that does not control the rights of the latest events – the Big Ten Network does, which is mostly owned by Fox. (More on this below.)

  • They have to pay $25 million to reimburse Fox for lost games in 2020. This came after an agreement between Fox and the conference that could not collect the money lost during the COVID-19 season.

  • There are millions of dollars worth of NBC’s prime-time deal, as Petitti has been scrambling to make sure he keeps as much of his original value as possible. Historically in the Big Ten, during the first weekend in November, schools have not been required to play night games for a myriad of reasons – health, recovery and school discipline among them. This is known in competitive circles as a “compromise,” and television contractors have calculated it.

Multiple sources told ESPN that several schools have been pushed, including Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, to play night games in November at the end of the new contract. That leaves Petitti to figure out how to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the first game without the agreement of other teams for the most important month of the regular season.

Athletic departments and coaches around the Big Ten say they were surprised that a November night game would be part of the deal. They were not asked for permission to play with them before the deal or informed of the changes ahead of time, according to sources. At the same time, NBC didn’t know until the first deal was signed this summer that these major schools had a long history of concessions that were part of previous broadcast arrangements and could not be attended.

“NBC was shocked, and I was shocked,” said Warde Manuel, Michigan’s athletic director. “We have not discussed, and I have not discussed with anyone in the league, to change the compromise that we agreed upon years ago.”

Within the industry, there was hope that, given the size of the deal, all schools would play in time.

“The fault lies with the school administration,” said one industry source. “Didn’t the presidents, chancellors and athletic directors know this? All the universities signed the agreement.”

While this is in effect, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State recently agreed to make temporary sacrifices to help the league recover from lost revenue from the NBC contract.

Penn State will play on the road in the short weekend on Black Friday against Michigan State, a game that was scheduled before Penn State’s admission. Ohio State will host Michigan State on Nov. 11, the newest home game night in Ohio State history, which looks like another franchise to help the league at this point.

“That’s what they’re going for right now,” one industry source said of Petitti. “Tony is trying to save, and what Penn State and Ohio State are doing is trying to minimize the loss.”

Warren did not return requests for comment.

“We are excited to begin our Big Ten partnership this fall,” an NBC Sports spokesperson told ESPN. “We had a good relationship with Kevin Warren, and the same with Tony Petitti. We are confident that all the remaining issues are good to be resolved.”

A full understanding of the deal Warren helped negotiate with NBC, CBS and Fox begins with a surprising twist — the Big Ten was not technically the owner. (Hence Warren’s objection to using Big Ten games without Fox’s permission.)

In 2016, when the Big Ten announced its long-term television deals with Fox and ESPN, the announcement wasn’t all inclusive. One of the things that wasn’t disclosed at the time, and how the new deal was discussed in recent months, was that the Big Ten Network acquired all rights to the league’s programming in 2016 until an unspecified date. The length of the partnership with the Big Ten Network dating back to 2016 is governed by the current contract, which has been announced for the 2029-30 season.

The relationship is known to athletic directors, television executives and other team officials, although it has not been publicly announced. It appeared publicly at various times, including a Sports Business Journal report in April 2022 that two Fox executives were in the room when various media companies – ESPN, Amazon, NBC and others – met with their TV leagues. .

What this also means is that the most recent series of Big Ten TV shows were sub-licensees, in which the Big Ten Network and Fox managed the rights and worked with the Big Ten to license them. This means that most of the market value had already been sold.

“It was a joint discussion and meeting with FOX to work together and partner with other networks,” said an industry source. “They both need each other to do the business.”

This fact is very important to understand the problems that Petitti is facing. There are two new partners – NBC and CBS – who are trying to work out their long-term contracts. There is a well-known partner, Fox, who is riding the gun on this difficult journey, including upset Warren promised a title game Fox controlled without permission.

The league and Fox were also in talks with Amazon about the deal that went to NBC, but according to sources, there was a late push from those who were most involved in the school that some of the big things were not ready to participate in the sale. will be available for streaming only. This led to pressure to get more money from NBC.

And it leaves the league facing the prospect of a potential bonus for Warren, who did not have a bonus clause tied to a television contract in his contract. Warren’s director, Jim Delany, received a bonus of more than $20 million that was announced in 2017, and he is still being paid because he led the negotiations that sold all the rights this decade. (The bonus was in Delany’s contract before that.)

The league has brought in an outside research firm, Korn Ferry, to see if Warren’s work with the television deal could bring him a bonus.

One thing that is certain is that the Big Ten’s television contract, despite its size, does not satisfy many coaches around the league.

At a Big Ten Zoom call with Warren and the team’s men’s basketball coaches this summer after the deal was announced, sources say, Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo criticized Warren for a lack of visibility and discussion on the business.

Izzo recently said coaches weren’t consulted by the league before the deal: “One thing about coaches, you keep asking the wrong people because we’re the last ones to know anything,” Izzo told ESPN.

Izzo added that he is “concerned” about the number of games available only and said that this would be one of his first questions to Petitti, because “it was not discussed with us. [coaches] ever.”

“That’s one of the things I want to see with the new commissioner, that there’s transparency in working together,” Izzo said.

Izzo’s concerns echo among other Big Ten coaches, as Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann added: “For our league to continue to grow and evolve in this new season, I think veteran coaches like (Izzo and Purdue’s Matt. Painter) have to be it is a means of direct communication and a voice in conversation.”

Ohio State football assistant Ryan Day echoed Izzo’s comments on communication and transparency.

“There was frustration among the coaches about the way the night game was handled,” Day said. “We were surprised when it came out, and there was no discussion about the changes with the coaches as a team before announcing the television deal.”

Additional reporting by Jeff Borzello.

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