College Football Season Is Nearly Over. Then the Big TV Negotiations Begin.

College Football Season Is Nearly Over. Then the Big TV Negotiations Begin.

College Football Season Is Nearly Over. Then the Big TV Negotiations Begin.

College Football Season Is Nearly Over. Then the Big TV Negotiations Begin.

Media agreements with professional sports leagues usually have language for how to deal with a strike or a lockout, and one-off game cancellations because of extreme weather or other unexpected events can be resolved over the course of the season. If the Big Ten had not played football this fall, like its university chancellors and presidents originally decided in August before reversing course in September, the contracts could have rolled over another year, expiring in 2024 instead of 2023

Instead, by playing a shortened season only within its conference this autumn, the Big Ten set up what could become a complex, high-stakes dance testing contract law, interpersonal relationships and business ties.

“This will be an iterative process, and it will be an ongoing process,” Warren said. “This will never be, and it was never going to be, where we sat down and had one day and it was going to be clear.”

The outcome of the talks will reverberate throughout the league’s footprint, which is largely in the Midwest but reaches from Nebraska to New Jersey. Athletic teams across the country are being cut, and the N.C.A.A., stung by the cancellation of its national basketball tournaments in the spring, reduced its payout to conferences by hundreds of millions of dollars. State budget crunches because of the pandemic are sure to soon affect public colleges and universities, even those with self-sustaining athletic departments. Every dollar counts.

Ohio State’s athletic department, for example, earned $210.5 million in operating revenue during the 2018-19 school year, according to a financial report it submitted to the N.C.A.A. Ticket sales, its biggest source of revenue, generated almost $60 million and will shrink to close to nothing in 2020. It reported receiving almost no revenue from the state, university or student fees. Its second biggest source of revenue was media rights — an expansive category that includes television deals brokered by the Big Ten — which accounted for 22 percent of its budget, $45.6 million.

Television revenue, which the Big Ten distributes close to evenly to its member institutions, is even more important to the schools that aren’t traditional athletic powers. At Minnesota, for instance, media revenue accounted for 33 percent of the athletic department’s $130.5 million in operating revenue in 2018-19.

There are conspicuous benefits to leagues and media companies working out what to do about lost games without court fights.


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