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My Column: In Good Hands, Fox Sports (Not ESPN) Is The Right Place For The Big Ten

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On May 15th, Fox included the Big Ten in their pitch to advertisers

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Judging from their recent upfront presentations to advertisers, the FOX family of networks is certainly proud of their sports lineup — including the recent acquisition of Big Ten athletics.

On May 15th, FOX gathered in New York to pitch current and future advertisers on their upcoming TV and digital lineup. However, unlike most network pitches that focus on comedies and dramas, Fox made sports the crown jewel of their demonstration.

Of the notable names making appearances, Big Ten favorite Jim Harbaugh was one of the main focuses, proving the network is very serious about their recent deal with the conference.

Fox Sports now owns the majority of the main Big Ten television programming, with ESPN and CBS picking up the scraps. The Big Ten Network will still air their usual hefty slate of conference games.

(It should come as no surprise that Fox Sports and the Big Ten hooked up for this landmark deal. After all, Fox owns the majority stake in the Big Ten Network, with a 51 percent share.)

Some people are somewhat freaked out that the lesser-known Fox Sports 1 will be the new home for big-time conference games, but with the direction ESPN seems to be headed, I believe we’re on the right side of the sports network battle.

ESPN has had so much on their plate in recent years, promotion of the Big Ten has been basically non-existent — and that was with a full staff of college hoops writers and analysts. Now, with the network’s college basketball coverage hemorrhaging talent, you better believe things wouldn’t have gotten any better had they scored the main programming deal.

(Some notable names who got the ax by ESPN: megastar Andy Katz, analyst Len Elmore, reporter C.L Brown, and writers Eamonn Brennan and Dana O’Neil. Plus, basically any writer or contributor with Big Ten attached to their name. Full list here)

In fact, with the current financial situation at “The Mothership”, they probably were happy to see Fox ink the six-year, $1.44 billion deal. We all know that ESPN could have had the rights if they actually wanted them, they obviously passed by choice.

Have fun with the B-grade games, ESPN...

We’ll be over at FS1 for the rivalry games...with someone who actually wants us and will give our conference the time of day.

Obviously, the Michigan/Ohio State football game will be easy to market, but why am I so sure Fox and FS1 will be eager to promote Big Ten hoops?

Simple.

Fox Sports doesn’t have a large basketball footprint. They didn’t blow their money on a ridiculous NBA contract and the new Big East is a regional conference without a ton of drawing power. Promoting Big Ten basketball will get their foot in the door with hoops fans, hopefully keeping them around for other events and studio shows.

Michigan. Ohio State. Michigan State. Those are bankable brands and names that stick out in the sporting lexicon. Jamie Horowitz is the current president of Fox Sports and has the chops to market the conference properly. After all, this is the same guy who was the mastermind behind First Take and SportsNation at ESPN.

The new home for the biggest Big Ten events is at Fox Sports, and that’s a good thing. Worry not, folks, our conference in good hands with Horowitz.

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How Do The Networks Decide Who Gets What Games?

On Colin Cowherd’s latest podcast, The Herd: Saturday Special Podcast, Fox Sports Executive VP Michael Mulvihill made an appearance and disclosed the process of divvying up games between networks.

Mulvihill called the selection process “the ultimate fantasy football draft”.

Each network gets to choose which days they receive first choice of games rather than picking the actual games ahead of time. Since the networks own rights to numerous conferences, whoever has the majority share of a given conference gets more first-choice dates for that conference, with the next in line receiving second choice and so on.

Sounds like the greatest thing ever.

The podcast is here. Big Ten conversation starts around the 16 minute mark.