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Big Ten Signs Massive Media Rights Deal With ESPN

ESPN has picked up the second half of the Big Ten's media rights.

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Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Media rights, particularly for live athletic events, have been a growing business, for the right type of property. The NFL has cashed in, and the NBA's new deal is set to explode the salary cap. And, now Jim Delany and the Big Ten have settled their next six years of broadcast television.

A while back, Delany made news when he sold the first half of the Big Ten's football and basketball packages to Fox. Some felt the Fox deal could've been another indication of ESPN's belt tightening as they face "cord cutters" or diminishing traditional cable subscribers.

Well, ESPN is back in the Big Ten business after agreeing to pick up the second half of the Big Ten's media rights package. (Lev Facher in the Indy Star does a good job synthesizing the crux of the agreement. Reportedly, each Big Ten school will receive roughly $35.5 million annually under the new television deal, up from $27 million last year.)

ESPN's package is an average of $190 million over six years. All told, with Fox, CBS and ESPN, the Big Ten's media deal is worth $2.64 billion (over six years), a staggering figure and one that represents a sizable increase over its current agreement.

Fox and ESPN will broadcast 25 football and 50 basketball games this season. According to John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal, there are some differences between the Fox and ESPN deals. Fox is the Big Ten's unquestioned media leader. Fox will broadcast the Big Ten Football Championship Game, which they have for a few years now. And, it'll likely get game selection advantages.

In addition, CBS has extended its deal through 2023 to broadcast the Big Ten basketball semis and championship game, according to the Sports Business Journal.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany really has pulled most of the right strings. Timing is everything of course, and he's benefited from that. But, under his stewardship the Big Ten business has grown tremendously. He's launched the Big Ten Network (of which Fox owns 51 percent), and added Rutgers and Maryland to the Big Ten. With him at the helm, they've also created a Big Ten Football Championship game, which brings great notoriety to the conference and a financial impact. (Perhaps his most public miscalculation has been the ridiculous Leaders and Legends division names, which they've since abandoned.)

The length of the Big Ten's television deal is also worth noting. The Big Ten's deal will expire before the other major conferences, at which point they can renegotiate and perhaps win another huge increase. In addition to the increase, consider this another win for Delany and the Big Ten.

For all the doubt and angst about ESPN's willingness to step up, and for all the wonder about how far they'd take the cord cutting, they're back in the Big Ten business. And, with them picking up the second package, there's only one major question yet to answer (from ESPN's perspective at least):  With Mike Tirico leaving for NBC, who's going to work Big Ten basketball games with Dan Dakich?

In all seriousness, I couldn't picture Big Ten athletics not (partially at least) on ESPN. The two have been partners for a significant time. According to Ourand, ESPN has carried Big Ten games since its inception in 1979. So, as far as the Big Ten's media rights are concerned, the world makes sense again.