The Big Ten has had a rough start to the college football season on the field. Its top teams have failed in high profile out-of-conference match-ups and the rest of the conference has suffered embarrassing upsets against mid-level conference opposition.
Given the weak results, you might expect conference commissioner Jim Delany to be sitting in his office wondering where the Heisman trophies and National Championships have gone.
With the Big Ten’s media rights deal set to expire with ESPN following the 2016-17 school year, it would be reasonable to think the poor product could have a negative impact on maximizing the value of the next contract. However, that is likely not the case.
If early returns are a good indicator, Delany’s keen vision may have protected the conference from feeling the impact resulting from the lack of success. Rutgers, one of two East coast schools (Maryland) new to the conference this year, drew Penn State for its inaugural Big Ten match-up. According to Nielsen LPM overnights, the game was the highest-rated college football game that day in the New York and Philadelphia media markets. The contest, televised on the Big Ten Network, between the newly minted rivals earned a 4.4 rating in Philadelphia and a 2.2 rating in New York – outpacing a clash between ranked SEC teams and Notre Dame in each respective market.
While it’s still too early to cast Delany in one of those real men of genius commercials, his pursuit of schools with a focus on entry into important media markets instead of historical on-field success looks to have been a smart approach. With a projection released last Spring estimating that Big Ten schools will receive $44.5 million each year after the conference signs its next media rights deal, the inflow of cash should help soothe any pain felt from the trashing it has received from media and fans.