The Big Ten Conference’s current media rights deal with Fox and ESPN is set to expire in 2023, and, according to conference commissioner Kevin Warren, a new agreement is imminent. At the moment, the conference hopes to have a memorandum of understanding agreed to before Memorial Day; however, which of the seven suitors confirmed to be in talks for the media rights, is currently unknown.
On Tuesday afternoon, Common Man and T-Bone on 97.1 The Fan in Columbus spoke about the negotiations, which could amount to a record-setting $1 billion annually, that will impact where and how a quarter of the United States population watches its college football teams.
“[It’s] not a shock to me that this would get done fairly quickly,” said Jonathan “T-Bone” Smith. “The amount of money to be made off of this conference and all these rightsholders, they want a part of this. They want to be in the mix and make sure they don’t lose this college football money that comes to them.”
The last media rights deal involving the Big Ten was worth $2.64 billion and involved Fox and ESPN sharing the football rights, while CBS had exclusive rights to a package of basketball games.
Now with a myriad of different networks involved, the possibility of the conference severing ties with ESPN, a partnership existent since ESPN’s launch in 1979, is a very genuine possibility. If ESPN were to lose the media rights to Big Ten games, it could mean a massive shift in the way games are consumed by the viewing public.
“I had heard that NBC was very interested,” said co-host Mike “Common Man” Ricordati. “What would that mean, in terms of a lot of these games being stream-only on Peacock? That could be a possibility.”
Recent negotiations between NBC and sports leagues have implemented Peacock, NBC’s streaming service, to have exclusive rights to a set number of games. On the day before the start of the regular season, Major League Baseball and NBC came to terms on a two-year agreement worth a reported $30 million annually to broadcast 18 Sunday baseball games on the streaming service.
If the Big Ten were to secure a media rights deal with NBC, a similar scenario could play itself out, something that the afternoon duo compared to exclusive National Hockey League games being broadcast on ESPN+. The distinction they made, though, is in the size of the college football audience compared to the, according to Ricordati, “not large” NHL audience, and how restricting access could coerce fans to purchase new subscriptions.
“As much as they have ESPN+, I don’t think [that] right now [is] a huge strategy for them,” said Smith. “They put lots of college football games on ESPN+ – you can actually watch plenty of that stuff there – but they also put it on ESPN…If it goes to NBC with Peacock, you can almost assure they’re going to put an Ohio State game on Peacock, and you’re going to have to go get that thing.”
The SEC and ESPN recently agreed to a decade-long media rights deal worth approximately $3 billion. The agreement marks the first time that CBS will not hold the rights to the conference since 1996, meaning that if the network is unable to gain the Big Ten rights, it could be without college football entirely – at least for a period of time.
“If CBS is not involved in the SEC, are they just going to sit there and say, ‘Well, no college football for us – that’s it.’?,” asked Ricordati. “No, they’re going to get in on the Big Ten.”
The other aspect of the Big Ten ending its long-standing rights agreement with ESPN, according to the afternoon duo, is that it may not garner as much coverage overall across the properties of the network. While Smith affirmed Tuesday that “It’s not fair and it’s not right,” he came to the realization that “it will happen.”
“You will never go across ESPN SportsCenter Saturdays in the fall, and not see them showing Ohio State highlights; not see them talking about Ohio State as one of the top five teams – all that stuff,” added Smith. “But you’re not going to see them talk about the Iowas of the world as much and hyping them up the way they are going to hype the fourth or fifth best team in the SEC.”
16.9% of All Sports Radio Listeners Are Streaming
The news comes as Nielsen reported that 11.3% of all radio listenership comes thru a stream, up from 6.9% in May of 2020.
According to Nielsen, sports radio stations are the third-most streamed spoken word format, just behind Talk/Personality and News/Talk/Info. The trend is continuing to show that streaming is on the uptick.
The survey found that in May 2022, 16.9% of sports talk radio’s audience tunes in via the station’s online stream. That news comes as Nielson reported that 11.3% of all radio listenership comes thru a stream, up from 6.9% in May of 2020.
Nielsen notes that in the 45 PPM markets they are grabbing data from and the 4,800+ stations that stream in those markets, just 30% of them are encoded. That encoding allows for Nielsen to accurately measure the streams. They used the listener data from 1,500 stations across the U.S., in their latest report, AM/FM Radio Streaming Growth in PPM Markets.
The survey also showed that streaming levels differ widely by radio format. Spoken word formats display strong streaming listenership (Talk/Personality: 31.2%, News/Talk/Info: 19.1%, All Sports: 16.9%). In fact, Nielsen found that 1/3 of all AM/FM streaming in PPM markets is to spoken word formats.
New Study Finds Listeners to MLB on Radio Are Willing to Spend
More than one third (34%) of the respondents recently purchased clothing/apparel that features their favorite team… 27% have visited a ballpark in the past year. That compares to only 19% of the average MLB fan base has made an apparel purchase to support their team while just 11% have gone to a game in person in that same time span.
When it comes to advertiser’s attempting to reach an affluent and engaged audience, sports talk radio might have a whale on their hands. Major League Baseball play-by-play features an audience that has money and has no problems spending it.
In a recent MRI-Simmons study, data shows that consumers who listen to MLB broadcasts on the radio are the perfect audience for sports marketers. According to the analysis, done by Katz Radio Group, nearly two thirds (62%) of those surveyed consider themselves “super fans” of baseball. That number is 58% higher than the average.
Those “super fans” are willing to spend to support their team, as well. More than one third (34%) of the respondents recently purchased clothing/apparel that features their favorite team. Those fans are also far more willing to make the trip to see their team. The study found that 27% have visited a ballpark in the past year. That compares to only 19% of the average MLB fan base has made an apparel purchase to support their team while just 11% have gone to a game in person in that same time span.
The news continues getting better for advertisers. Continued analysis reveals that 66% of listeners are currently employed and have a median household income greater than $106,000.
Listeners to MLB games on the radio are also 34% more likely to place a sports bet and 106% more likely to be a participant in fantasy baseball.
Jeff Dean Signs Off At ESPN Tucson for The Final Time
Dean said on Facebook: “…the years of burning the candle at both ends has taken a dire toll on my health and for the first time in my life, I’m going to put myself and my livelihood first”
Fans will no longer be able to tune into ESPN Tucson and hear Jeff Dean hosting his show. Friday morning was his last show, according to his Facebook and Twitter pages.
The Jeff Dean Show had been airing from 7-9a MT weekday mornings. Dean took to social media to relay the news and the reason behind him stepping away from the microphone. Dean said on Facebook:
“This morning I signed off from my radio show on ESPN Tucson for the final time. I have been devoting too much of my life and my time to working multiple jobs…the years of burning the candle at both ends has taken a dire toll on my health and for the first time in my life, I’m going to put myself and my livelihood first”
Dean went on to emphasize that he isn’t stepping away from ESPN Tucson, he’s just taking himself off the air. He also added that “gladly, I will be continuing my position as PA announcer of University of Arizona Football and Men’s basketball.”
Dean would also go onto Twitter to add even further context for his self-removal from the ESPN Tucson airwaves. He added, “It’s not a decision I arrived at hastily, as it’s been a 6 month mental grind to make the ultimate decision that had to be made, and I’m not particularly happy about it, but I have to put my health first, we all do, and make sure we’re around long enough to enjoy life”.
Dean had been ESPN Tucson’s morning host since November 2019.