As it gets ready to clash with Comcast over rights fees, Fox Networks Group has put together a commercial that features popular college football coaches warning subscribers they might not be able to see Big Ten games on Big Ten Network or FS1 this fall.
Big Ten Network’s distribution deal with Comcast is expiring just as the college football season is starting. The way the schedule is set up most of the early Big Ten football games are on BTN or Fox Sports 1, and without a new deal, those games will get blacked out to Comcast subscribers.
Fox has reached into its playbook for a spot appearing online starting Thursday that features Big Ten coaches warning that “Comcast Xfinity customers could miss every single Big Ten football game on FS1 and the Big Ten Network.”
The coaches include James Franklin of Penn State, P.J. Fleck, Minnesota; Kirk Ferentz, Iowa: Tom Allen, Indiana; Lovie Smith, Illinois; Chris Ash: Rutgers; Jeff Brohm, Purdue; D.J. Durkin, Maryland; Mark Dantonio; Michigan State; Jim Harbaugh, Michigan, Scott Frost, Nebraska and Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern.
Harbaugh tells viewers: “For more information, visit KeepBigTen.com,” and an announcer closes with “Don’t let Comcast take away your games.”
The spot is appearing on Facebook, Twitter and KeepBigTen.com, but not on the cable network yet. But the campaign is expected to ramp up as the deadline at the end of the month gets closer.
Mark Silverman, president of Fox Sports National Networks and the Big Ten Network began calling attention to the end of the deal with Comcast during the conference’s media day in Chicago on July 24.
Since April, Comcast has dropped the Big Ten Network outside of the states where the Big Ten has schools partly as a signal that a difficult negotiation lays ahead, according to Silverman.
When BTN originally launched in 2007, Comcast was a holdout, hamstringing the network in states served by Comcast where the conference has schools.
Comcast reached a 10-year agreement to carry BTN in June 2008 and launched it in time for the 2008 college football season in states where the Big Ten had schools. Outside of the Big Ten states that Comcast serves, Comcast has the option to provide Big Ten Network programming on any level of service,
BTN charges cable operators a different sub fee in states where the Big Ten has school. According to research company Kagan, BTN gets more than $1.30 per month from cable operators for in-market subscribers, but less than a dime for out-of-market subscribers.
Silverman says that Comcast actually pays a flat fee for its right to carry the network outside of Big Ten school states, and that fee is the same whether the network is available in millions of homes or in none.
In addition to its deal with the Big Ten Network, Comcast agreed to pay a surcharge on top of its deal with FS1 when FS1 expanded the number of Big Ten games it carries. If Comcast does not extend that deal, those games will be blacked out on FS1.
Comcast and Fox have been at loggerheads on a number of fronts in recent years.
21st Century Fox patriarch Rupert Murdoch last year rejected Comcast’s bid to buy assets from Fox because he preferred to get Disney stock instead of Comcast’s.
Comcast attempted to outbid Disney for those assets, but gave up last month. The Comcast and Disney are still competing to buy Sky, in which Fox holds a 39% stake.
The two companies also pitched a long battle over the YES Network that began in 2015, the regionals sports channel that carries the Yankees and the Brooklyn Nets in the New York metropolitan area.
The fight over YES was one reason Murdoch was unwilling to do business with Comcast CEO Brian Roberts.