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

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Per ESPN:

When the Big Ten officially introduced Tony Petitti as its new commissioner nearly a month ago, he listed four immediate priorities in his role as one of the most powerful people in college sports.

The league needs to integrate USC and UCLA for the 2024-25 season, explore the new media rights deal for the expanded College Football Playoff and focus on the tricky issue of name, image and likeness.

Lastly, Petitti prioritized the official completion of the massive television contract worth more than $7 billion negotiated by his predecessor, Kevin Warren. This issue may have seemed like a mere formality, but complications to the much-celebrated deal arose soon after he accepted the job.

Nearly three months before the season kicks off and those TV deals begin, the Big Ten does not have completed longform contracts, which include the fine print details. Instead, Petitti is engaged in significant "horse trading," according to multiple sources, to get the NBC primetime deal finished and figure out what the network calls "outstanding issues" in order to uphold as much value as possible.

"These deals aren't done, and they aren't what they were represented to be from the standpoint of the NBC deal and the availability of all members to participate in November games in primetime," said an industry source.

Interviews with nearly a dozen sources in and around the Big Ten and the college sports industry paint a picture of Petitti sprinting to navigate details left unresolved from his predecessor.

As a result, there's a trail of unhappy athletic directors seeing money disappearing from their bottom line, frustrated television executives and big-name coaches irked about the lack of transparency in details that weren't communicated to them.

Kevin Warren took over as Big Ten commissioner in January 2020, and in just three years at the helm, he dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, helped bring USC and UCLA into the conference in a landscape-altering deal, and secured the massive TV payday before heading back to the NFL as team president and CEO of the Chicago Bears.

When he accepted that job, he said he was leaving the Big Ten in a "demonstratively better position," which was true financially as its schools project more revenue than any league over the course of the deal. His work adding USC and UCLA, who join the conference after the 2023-24 season, was widely praised by members and provided a financial jolt to the television deal.

On campus, it's a bit more muddled. Big Ten schools have seen potential revenue disappear the past few months from a contract that was announced back in August as being worth an average of nearly $1 billion per year through the 2029 football season. More than $70 million in total is suddenly in flux -- nearly $5 million per school -- and it has left administrators around the league seeking answers and calling for financial accountability.

Recently, schools have found out:

  • They are going to have to pay back nearly $40 million to Fox because, according to sources, Warren delivered NBC the Big Ten football title game in 2026 without the full authority to do so. This all has unfolded under the complicated backdrop of the Big Ten conference not actually controlling the rights to the inventory of this latest deal -- the Big Ten Network does, which is majority owned by Fox. (More on that below.)
  • They are going to have to pay $25 million total for a deal to pay Fox back for lost 2020 football game inventory. This came after an arrangement between Fox and the conference that was unable to muster the lost revenue from the COVID-19 season.
  • There's tens of millions of dollars of value of the NBC primetime deal in flux, as Petitti has been racing to ensure it keeps as much of its original value as possible. Historically in the Big Ten, after the first weekend in November, schools were not required to play night games for myriad reasons -- health, recovery and campus logistics among them. These were known in league circles as "tolerances," and prior television contracts accounted for them.

Go Gophers!!
 


The first guy made the battle plan, and took credit for it. The successor is the one who has to actually execute it and win the war.

The devil is in the details, and there's still a lot of work remaining to be done.
 




In % terms, the $ at dispute amounts to roughly 1% of the total deal. The night game situation could be a little sticky - but if some schools in the league are going to have night games in Nov, then everyone should be in the same boat. They should not give some teams the right to refuse night games.
 

Good Lord, the detail on the 2026 championship broadcast is mind boggling. Beyond Warren negotiating something he apparently had no business negotiating the stable of high $ attorneys didn't notice this minor detail? Not that I feel sorry for the ADs. They can wipe their tears with Ben Franklins.
 

Good Lord, the detail on the 2026 championship broadcast is mind boggling. Beyond Warren negotiating something he apparently had no business negotiating the stable of high $ attorneys didn't notice this minor detail? Not that I feel sorry for the ADs. They can wipe their tears with Ben Franklins.
Yeah, that stood out to me. It doesn't sound like it would be that complicated of a backdrop that a competent attorney (much less team of attorneys) wouldn't be able to figure that out.

Navigating BTN/Fox was always going to be the most difficult part of these deals, the fact that Big 10 tried conveyed their property is egregious. It almost feels like it was just cheaper to get your wrist slapped pay the $40 million and move on ASAP but I can't really figure out what the play there is either.
 

How did Warren have authority to negotiate every other aspect of what he did negotiate, a massive, three-pronged deal over three TV partners, but just that one little bit he didn't have authority?

Seems pretty easy and convenient to throw that claim out there now that he's gone and probably has signed an NDA.

:unsure:
 



I don't think Warren was the only person in the room negotiating these deals. I assume the B1G has lawyers who helped draft the agreements. If Warren suggested doing something that was not allowed, there should have been someone overseeing the deal who was capable of pointing that fact out.

somebody screwed up - and it's easier to blame the guy who left.

it's a mess, but it will get resolved. this deal is too big for any of the participants to allow it to fall apart. and everyone is going to get a lot of money.

I find it more than a bit amusing that anyone would claim hardship if -for instance - school X winds up receiving $95-million instead of $100-million. would any B1G school willingly change places with a school in the Pac-12 today? No bleepin' way.
 

In % terms, the $ at dispute amounts to roughly 1% of the total deal. The night game situation could be a little sticky - but if some schools in the league are going to have night games in Nov, then everyone should be in the same boat. They should not give some teams the right to refuse night games.
I would be ok with letting some teams opt out of November night games IF they also got a slight haircut in TV dough. No idea what a fair amount would be, but smart people could figure that out.
 

So we're talking upwards of $100 million total in lost revenue, but on a $7 BILLION deal? Not pocket change, but hardly seems worth the article.
 

How did Warren have authority to negotiate every other aspect of what he did negotiate, a massive, three-pronged deal over three TV partners, but just that one little bit he didn't have authority?

Seems pretty easy and convenient to throw that claim out there now that he's gone and probably has signed an NDA.

:unsure:
He didn't have the authority because they didn't own the game. The Big 10 couldn't have possibly given anyone authority to negotiate that game.
 





I would be ok with letting some teams opt out of November night games IF they also got a slight haircut in TV dough. No idea what a fair amount would be, but smart people could figure that out.
Two problems with this:

1) The TV people want the big name teams in their prime time games. The money isn't going to be the same if they are ending the season with a diet of Indiana vs. Rutgers and Purdue vs. Illinois.

2) One of the teams that didn't want to change the November rule was Ohio State. Who is going to go to Gene Smith and suggest that Ohio State isn't pulling their weight in the conference and should accept less than a full revenue share unless they back down?
 

Two problems with this:

1) The TV people want the big name teams in their prime time games. The money isn't going to be the same if they are ending the season with a diet of Indiana vs. Rutgers and Purdue vs. Illinois.

2) One of the teams that didn't want to change the November rule was Ohio State. Who is going to go to Gene Smith and suggest that Ohio State isn't pulling their weight in the conference and should accept less than a full revenue share unless they back down?
Seems fairly easy. Guarantee that no team will have to host a November night game more than once every 3 years. Should be easy enough with 16 teams.
 

Two problems with this:

1) The TV people want the big name teams in their prime time games. The money isn't going to be the same if they are ending the season with a diet of Indiana vs. Rutgers and Purdue vs. Illinois.

2) One of the teams that didn't want to change the November rule was Ohio State. Who is going to go to Gene Smith and suggest that Ohio State isn't pulling their weight in the conference and should accept less than a full revenue share unless they back down?

Good points. I wonder if Ohio St in addition to objecting to hosting a November home game also has a problem with playing one on the road as well?

Seems fairly easy. Guarantee that no team will have to host a November night game more than once every 3 years. Should be easy enough with 16 teams.

At least 2 of the soon to be 16 (USC/UCLA) I also suspect don't have an issue with a Night game. In addition to friendlier climate, a "Prime Time" game for them would kick off at 4 or 5pm.

I also wonder if there is some wiggle room on what "Prime Time". A game could kickoff 5:30 PM Central and at least the 2nd half would be PT.
 

Good points. I wonder if Ohio St in addition to objecting to hosting a November home game also has a problem with playing one on the road as well?



At least 2 of the soon to be 16 (USC/UCLA) I also suspect don't have an issue with a Night game. In addition to friendlier climate, a "Prime Time" game for them would kick off at 4 or 5pm.

I also wonder if there is some wiggle room on what "Prime Time". A game could kickoff 5:30 PM Central and at least the 2nd half would be PT.
I'm guessing NBC wants a start no earlier than 7:30 ET/6:30 CT so they don't have to have other PT programming (not that they do anything but show Dateline and SNL re-reuns on Saturday now.) Plus they wouldn't want the start going head-to-head with a 2:30 B1G game on CBS.
 

I'm guessing NBC wants a start no earlier than 7:30 ET/6:30 CT so they don't have to have other PT programming (not that they do anything but show Dateline and SNL re-reuns on Saturday now.).
NBC itself would probably be just fine with 6pm (CT) kickoffs, but their affiliates would have a fit with local news getting pre-empted.
 


Interesting
Day after Turkey Day. If they are going to have to play a game that NIGHT, makes sense to me.

I would be completely OK if the Gophers did the same thing and moved 1 to the Zygi Dome, even though I am that big of fan of the structure in general.

Downstream problem is conflicts with the Prep Bowl, which also had to move this past year.
 

I hear that the major sticking point Petitti is trying to iron out is that he is demanding that a Beth Mowins A.I. Bot call every B10 game, and is getting some pushback.
 

I hear that the major sticking point Petitti is trying to iron out is that he is demanding that a Beth Mowins A.I. Bot call every B10 game, and is getting some pushback.
I thought it was because even with all the advancements, it can't pronounce Kaliakmanis....
 

Seems fairly easy. Guarantee that no team will have to host a November night game more than once every 3 years. Should be easy enough with 16 teams.
There are certainly lots of ways to compromise, including the one you suggest. I believe that Ohio State has already agreed to an exception for this year in an effort to bridge the gap. Still somewhat of a problem where NBC is envisioning a schedule featuring a lot of Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan and getting a healthy dose of Minnesota, Indiana and Maryland. I am sure that they will work it out, but the money might not be quite the same.
 

There are certainly lots of ways to compromise, including the one you suggest. I believe that Ohio State has already agreed to an exception for this year in an effort to bridge the gap. Still somewhat of a problem where NBC is envisioning a schedule featuring a lot of Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan and getting a healthy dose of Minnesota, Indiana and Maryland. I am sure that they will work it out, but the money might not be quite the same.
The Notre Dame home schedule isn't all choice games. Sure they have a long history of playing Navy ..... but it's still ... Navy. You can't tell me NBC gets massive ratings having to air that?
 


The Notre Dame home schedule isn't all choice games. Sure they have a long history of playing Navy ..... but it's still ... Navy. You can't tell me NBC gets massive ratings having to air that?
Notre Dame has a national audience, much more like Ohio State or Michigan than Minnesota, Northwestern, etc. They also don't generally play opponents like Navy in prime time.
 

Notre Dame has a national audience, much more like Ohio State or Michigan than Minnesota, Northwestern, etc. They also don't generally play opponents like Navy in prime time.
I'm just saying that NBC pays for all the Notre Dame games, including the lower end ones. So they have some understanding/expectation about that.

If they really only want the big three Eastern powers for their prime time game, then they'll have to pay more because that's worth far more.
 

I'm just saying that NBC pays for all the Notre Dame games, including the lower end ones. So they have some understanding/expectation about that.

If they really only want the big three Eastern powers for their prime time game, then they'll have to pay more because that's worth far more.
Yeah, it seems like that might be the issue. NBC thought that they were getting (and paying for) a slate of higher profile teams/games and are now finding that some of the big boys aren't very excited about playing in those games the last third of the conference season. So NBC feels like they aren't getting (or might not get) the quality inventory they were negotiating for and the member schools are frustrated that they now either need to make concessions in scheduling that they don't want to make or face future payouts that are somewhat less than anticipated.
 

Ain't nobody tuning into NBC for a single damned thing, other than sports and news.

They know this.


This is very largely what live TV is morphing into: a live sports and live news broadcasts distribution service.

Every other show/program can be, maybe should be delivered through some other on-demand type of service, where you can optionally pay a bit more to opt out of commercials.
 




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