(Bloomberg) -- The decision by UCLA and USC to join the Big Ten further consolidates power within two college conferences and escalates the rivalry between their two biggest media partners, Fox and ESPN.
The Big Ten said Thursday that the schools, which have large fan bases and famous histories in football and basketball, will join the conference in 2024.
Their arrival will benefit Fox Corp., which owns 61% of the Big Ten Network through a joint venture and just renewed its deal with the conference.
Meanwhile, two other college sports powerhouses -- the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma -- have said they will leave the Big 12 and move to the Southeastern Conference, home of Louisiana State University and University of Alabama, in 2025.
Those moves will be a boost to Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN, which majority owns the SEC Network that airs the conference’s games. ESPN also agreed to pay $300 million per season to air SEC football starting in 2024, snatching away rights from Paramount Global’s CBS.
“These two major college sports broadcasters have communicated which horses within the Power 5 they’ll be favoring,” said William Mao, a senior vice president of global media consulting at Octagon, referring to the five most popular of the college sports conferences.
The news that UCLA and USC will join the Big Ten came as the conference was in the middle of negotiations for a new television deal for some of its games. Fox and ESPN currently hold the national rights to broadcast Big Ten games, paying $430 million a year combined under a contract that ends next year.
ESPN, CBS, Comcast Corp.’s NBC, Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc. have all expressed interest in bidding on the remaining games, according to Sports Business Journal, which reported that the conference’s total haul from media rights was likely to top $1 billion a year, even before the two Los Angeles universities were added.
Big Ten football games from schools like University of Michigan and Ohio State University routinely draw large television audiences. The addition of two more high-profile universities from the nation’s second-largest media market will add to what’s expected to be a windfall of TV dollars.
“The Big Ten was already looking at a substantial increase in media rights,” said Lee Berke, a media consultant. “Those dollars are going to be boosted because of the addition of USC and UCLA.”
The moves allow USC and UCLA teams to be seen by more fans on the East Coast. In a statement, UCLA cited “better television time slots for our road games” as a reason for joining the Big Ten.
“If your games aren’t on in Eastern time zone you’re at a disadvantage because people don’t see you at the time slots that are most visible,” Berke said.
For broadcasters, USC and UCLA also brings the added benefit of creating an additional window of football games that start later on Saturdays.
“You can have games at noon, afternoon and late night,” Mao said. “It creates more opportunity for more Big Ten games on linear broadcast.”
The moves are a blow to the Pac-12 Conference, which is losing the two schools. The conference said in a statement that it was “extremely surprised and disappointed” that UCLA and USC are leaving. The Pac-12 must not only reckon with the loss of two popular schools, but also figure out a way to keep others from defecting, Berke said.
“This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the Pac-12 to come up with replacements for those schools and hang onto the schools they still have,” Berke said. “The Pac-12 is vulnerable and will have to move very quickly to shore up its media rights and shore up its conference.”
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