How much media rights money will Big Ten teams make in 2020? We looked into that more in this week's Big Red Business.
football Edit

Big Red Business: TV revenue picture coming into focus

To the eight-game Big Ten regular-season football schedule, plus a conference championship or bonus game, add one more number for Nebraska fans to ponder: 90,000 sets of eyeballs.

When you boil down the potential financial impact of the conference’s decision to return to action in October, the television schedule and the revenue sharing that comes with it is still the biggest unknown for Nebraska and the other 13 Big Ten schools.

That $54 million or so annual TV payout is the biggest piece of Nebraska’s revenue pie, and it’s mostly the same story in Iowa City, Madison, West Lafayette, Champaign-Urbana and other schools.

The second biggest piece: Ticket revenue of about $30 million from a sold out Memorial Stadium.

How much of the estimated $54 million in TV money will Big Ten teams make in 2020 with just 9 games?
How much of the estimated $54 million in TV money will Big Ten teams make in 2020 with just 9 games? (Associated Press)

But with no revenue coming from tickets, how much money will come back to sports programs from television? Will the conference’s television deals be renegotiated soon to something less than the current paycheck? Will the money be enough to plug many of the athletic department budgetary holes, including Nebraska’s estimated $100 million revenue decline.

Big Ten officials have so far not commented on the television packages with Fox Sports/BTN and ESPN/ABC. But one sports analyst predicted Big Ten schools will recoup about two-thirds of their media revenue sharing, or about $36 million per school.

John Jentz, chief financial officer in Nebraska’s athletic department wouldn’t go that far.

“But at least we know our tv numbers should jump by 90,000 until it is safe for (fans) to return, which multiplied across the conference should help as the Big Ten conference works with media partners,”Jentz said.

From a financial perspective, Jentz offered an upbeat assessment that the football season “should provide some excellent revenue-generating opportunities.”

For example, he said, the empty seats at Memorial Stadium “become great inventory” for multi-media partner, Learfield-IMG College, to “provide our sponsors, which should help replenish much needed operating funds.”

Put another way, there is advertising potential with banners and other signage throughout the stadium, and athletic director Bill Moos has hinted that new marketing plans, some relying on social media, are coming, perhaps this week.

The operating budget for the athletic department’s current fiscal year, which began July 1, is still a work in progress and Jentz has not released any preliminary numbers. Last year, the historically profitable athletic program generated more than $136 million in revenue coupled with expenses of $124 million, resulting in an operating profit of more than $12 million.

Jentz declined to elaborate on this year’s budget other than to note that it is “great to have an outline of a roadmap moving forward.”

TV ratings are expected to be higher for 2020 with no fans in the stands. How much more money will that ratings boost be worth?
TV ratings are expected to be higher for 2020 with no fans in the stands. How much more money will that ratings boost be worth? (USA Today)

TV real estate 

Under a deal signed in 2017, ESPN now pays $190 million per season for some Big Ten games (they also include basketball games). Fox pays more for a better pick of games, about $240 million per season, according to the Washington Post.

Collectively, the Big Ten rights are valued at $2.64 billion over six years, according to media reports.

How will football viewing play out this fall, and will advertisers be on board?

Several sports analysts said an eight-week season should provide enough time for complete coverage of the season. In addition, schools might be able to make deals with local broadcasters for any games not covered by the national deals with ESPN/ABC and Fox Sports/BTN.

In addition, the Big Ten might be more flexible with the schedule, especially since games will be played without fans, said Victor Matheson, a sports economist at Holy Cross College. “So we might see some midweek games,” Matheson said.

Friday night games might also be an option, especially with high school football being played on a limited basis or suspended altogether, Matheson said.

“Since most of the Group of 5 schools are not playing, plus slightly pared down schedules in the SEC, ACC, and Big 12, plus no Pac-12, there is a bit more tv real estate that is open,” he said.

One Big Ten source, speaking on background, said he believes the networks will essentially have to arrange interim agreements with each Power 5 conference. “While they certainly aren't getting the same inventory that they desire,” he said, “maintaining the long-term relationship with their partners is also very important.”

Although the number of games played is going down, the average quality of games should go up, Matheson said, as non-conference cupcakes are off the schedule this year.

“So even with only 8 out of 12 games being played, I would expect way more than two-thirds of the tv revenue to be salvaged,” Matheson said. “You’re still looking at a big loss in (ticket) revenue, but you are looking at getting a lot of the overall revenue back.”

Will Nebraska and other Big Ten schools resort to selling fan stadium cutouts for home games to generate more revenue?
Will Nebraska and other Big Ten schools resort to selling fan stadium cutouts for home games to generate more revenue?

Rodgers, Suh, cutouts? 

Look, who’s in the stands behind the Nebraska bench? Johnny Rodgers, Rich Glover, Big Larry Jacobson, Bob Brown, Lighthorse Harry Wilson, Ahmon Green, Mike Rozier, Eric Crouch and Jeff Kinney...why even Big Suh, Tommie Frazier, and the Prince.

Borrowing a marketing strategy from Major League Baseball, Memorial Stadium could be plastered with plastic cutouts of Nebraska’s All Americans and other great players from over the years.

Season ticket holders could also get the opportunity -- for a price -- to have their cardboard cutout likeness parked in their seats.

For example, some Kansas City Royals season ticket holders paid $40 apiece to place a plastic cutout of their photo to populate the stands. Half of that money paid for the cutouts and the rest -- or about $14,000 -- went to charity.

Or, to add more life to the season, consider the NBA’s online zoom sessions with virtual fans during games.

Fans signed up for the virtual experience by using a program downloaded from Microsoft. Since there are only 320 slots available, the NBA left it up to the individual teams to select the fans they want to invite to a digital seat.

Fans appear on large video boards placed on the sidelines behind the team benches at the arena in Orlando. The cameras generally show fans in the background throughout the game.

As for Nebraska’s new virtual marketing kit, some ideas could be unveiled in about a week, said Garrett Klassy, Nebraska’s senior deputy athletic director. “It’s a fluid list,” he said. “It would be premature to discuss at this point.”

Of course, Nebraska delivered a winner in April when a virtual spring game attracted more than 281,000 unique viewers tuned in across various social media platforms.

The simulation, played on EA Sports’ NCAA Football, was held on the day the annual Red-White spring game was scheduled to be played at Memorial Stadium, and featured star-studded rosters from Cornhusker teams.

Around the conference, Wisconsin on Saturday launched a program to keep Badger fans engaged virtually.

The Badgers, with its American Family Insurance partnership, teamed up with BTN to revisit classic victories over the years on YouTube, Facebook and the Badger Sports Network. “Dream Season” runs through early December.

The broadcasts combine TV footage with the original radio call. On game day, fans can enhance their viewing by participating in an interactive second-screen experience. Fans can use their mobile devices during the game to enjoy exclusive content, interactive games and game day traditions. The fun second-screen experience allows fans to earn points for their participation and activity to win prizes.

Steve Rosen writes about the business of sports for HuskerOnline. Questions, comments, story ideas? Reach Steve at srosen@huskeronline.com.