Content

ESPN, Big East Reach Rights Agreement

Programmer to Remain Primary Football, Basketball Rights-Holder, Pending Conference Board Renewal Approval 2/23/2013 12:31 PM Eastern

ESPN has reached a multiyear, media rights renewal deal with the Big East Conference.

The parties said on Saturday afternoon that they had forged a new agreement, pending approval by the conference’s board. That vote could come as early as next week, perhaps on Monday.

Last week, the Big East, which has been beset by various member defections, received an official offer from the NBC Sports Group, which would have principally used the conference's football and basketball rights to bolster the programming lineup of its national cable service, NBC Sports Network, but some of the action would have aired on NBC and Comcast's regional sports networks.

As the incumbent, ESPN held the right to match the offer within a week, which it did on Feb. 21. The parties subsequently continued to negotiate and fashioned accord announcements on Saturday, Feb. 23.

"ESPN has matched the third-party offer that the Big East Conference received, and, subject to Big East board approval, ESPN and the Big East will continue, for years to come, their long-term relationship, which began in 1980," commissioner Mike Aresco said in a statement.

For its part, ESPN issued the following statement: "We look forward to continuing our relationship."

Financial terms and the number of games exposures were not disclosed. However, published reports have pegged the contract as covering 65 regular-season football contests annually from 2014-20, plus a conference championship matchup. On the hardwood, the deal would extend from 2013-20 for 150-plus regular-season basketball games per season and the conference tournament.

Combined, ESPN would spend upward of $20 million annually on rights for the two sports, a far cry from the $1.17 billion, nine-year deal the Big East turned down from ESPN two years ago. Since that time, 16 schools have either left the conference (West Virginia), will move on with the next school year (Syracuse and Pittsburgh) or announced they would be exiting.

For the upcoming 2013-14 basketball season, the Big East will receive a reported $10 million, should the so-called "Catholic 7" schools of Georgetown, St. John’s, Villanova, Seton Hall, Providence, Marquette and Marquette, remain within the conference. Those schools have declared their intention to break away and form their own league by adding other programs, including Butler, with a 2014 tipoff likely. However, negotiations could facilitate an earlier exit that would reduce ESPN's rights outlay.

Fox Sports Media Group is said to be the front-runner for the Catholic 7, and a rights deal with these schools anchoring a new circuit could manifest on Fox Sports 1. The new national cable network, slated to launch this summer, is expected to be officially announced at an upfront presentation to media buyers in Manhattan on March 5.

Meanwhile, CBS is also negotiating a Big East broadcast rights renewal. Like ESPN, CBS's basketball rights deal with the conference concludes with the end of the 2012-13 season.