A Big Ten more years at ESPN/ABC

College conference also inks deal with Fox

The Big Ten conference made news on two fronts Wednesday, renewing its deal with ESPN and ABC Sports for another 10 years, and signing a 20-year contract with the Fox Networks Group for a nationally distributed Big Ten Channel.

The ESPN/ABC renewal covers hundreds of games each year involving Big Ten football, men and women’s basketball and volleyball. ESPN will be able to transmit the games to its new- media outlets like the Internet, cell phones, iPods, video on demand and portable media players. The parties declined to discuss license fees.

The Big Ten Channel, which plans to open for business in fall 2007, with headquarters in Chicago, has already landed a carriage deal with its partner Fox’s sister company DirecTV. The satcaster will make it available to the bulk of its 14.5 million subscriber base.

Fox will run the daily operation of the Big Ten Channel and take a minority interest in it. Programming includes at least 35 football games a year, 105 regular-season men’s-basketball games, 55 women’s- basketball games, various championships and tournaments, 170 Olympic sporting events and a vast library of archival material.

Bob Thompson, president of Fox Sports Networks, said the biggest demand for the Big Ten Channel will come from cable systems in the eight states where the 11 universities are located. But the network will also push to get expanded-basic carriage in cable throughout the country.

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