ESPN Lands Cheapie Big East Rights Deal

Bristol matches NBC Sports' $130 million bid

ESPN has matched NBC Sports' bid for the media rights to the Big East Conference, and in so doing has secured its position as the league's primary rights holder.

While neither party disclosed the value of the renewed package, sources with knowledge of the negotiations said the deal extends through the 2019-20 academic year and is worth a grand total of $130 million.

The relatively picayune dollar amount throws into relief the devastation of realignment and the short-sighted avarice of Big East officials. Two years ago, ESPN offered the conference approximately 10 times that amount—$1.2 billion over the course of nine years, or roughly $130 million per annum. Thinking it could secure a better price on the open market, the Big East spurned ESPN's offer.

Since that time, the Big East's very existence has been called into question. Original member and perennial basketball powerhouse Syracuse is decamping for the Atlantic Coast Conference, as are Pittsburgh and Louisville. Notre Dame hoops is also taking up residence in the ACC, while Rutgers is moving to the Big 10.

The Big East will earn an even more reduced payout should the seven remaining Catholic schools—Georgetown, Marquette, St. John's, DePaul, Villanova, Seton Hall and Providence—leave to form a breakaway basketball conference. (ESPN president John Skipper told Adweek that he anticipated a concerted effort by Fox Sports to pick up the rights to a seemingly inevitable Catholic 7 package.)

A formal contract is expected to be approved on Monday. Meanwhile, ESPN's victory comes as a blow to NBC Sports Network, which last week made a $130 million bid of its own. The combined football and basketball rights would have provided the developing cable net with a much-needed bounty of live sports content. As the vast majority of major rights packages have been secured through the end of the decade, there remain very few opportunities for NBCSN to explore.)

"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, by way of confirming the financial arrangement.