Big Ten Network fears Comcast may be preparing to drop the channel altogether

Nick Bromberg
Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman at Big Ten Media Days. (Getty)
Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman at Big Ten Media Days. (Getty)

The Big Ten Network is not getting along with Comcast.

BTN president Mark Silverman used his time at Big Ten Media Days Tuesday to disparage the television provider for its decision to drop the Big Ten Network from customers’ channel lineups outside of Big Ten markets. That decision, Silverman said, could be the start of a bigger push by Comcast.

“Unlike the usual scenario in these carriage disputes, there is no economic benefit to Comcast at all to do this and removed BTN from their systems outside the Big Ten area, which begs the question: Why did they do this?” Silverman rhetorically asked.

“Well — within the Big Ten footprint — Comcast systems are also the primary cable provider. In fact, 10 of the 14 schools in the Big Ten are markets where Comcast is the leading cable provider. Basically everyone except for Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Iowa. Every other school Comcast is the leading cable provider.”

“Unfortunately, my fear is the removal of BTN in the outer market may just be the first step in Comcast’s plan to remove BTN from their systems everywhere, including the Big Ten home markets.”

Comcast dropped BTN on some lineups in April

Comcast didn’t widely-announce the decision to drop the Big Ten Network outside of the conference’s area. The decision was revealed in the fine print on people’s cable bills and became widely-known in April.

No explanation was given on those bills for the decision. Silverman said about 60 games would be broadcast on the Big Ten Network and Fox Sports 1 in 2018.

The Big Ten Network is a primary revenue source for the Big Ten’s 14 teams. Fewer Big Ten Network subscribers mean less revenue for the conference via subscriber fees. The Big Ten and SEC generate the most money of all college conferences, largely because of their television networks.

Big Ten trying to negotiate with Comcast regarding game rights

The Big Ten Network’s availability on Comcast is not the only issue between the conference and cable provider. Silverman said the agreements for Big Ten football games broadcast on Fox and Fox Sports 1 are also set to expire. Fox has the top-tier rights for Big Ten football games, meaning the conference’s biggest games are on its networks. The Big Ten Network is a joint operation between the conference and Fox, similar to the SEC’s arrangement with ESPN.

Silverman said the Big Ten has not heard back from Comcast regarding a proposal it sent the cable provider. If there’s no resolution to the negotiations, Big Ten football games that aren’t on ESPN could be blacked out from Comcast subscribers, Silverman said.

“Now, in addition to the BTN agreement expiring, so is the agreement for all Big Ten games that air on FS1,” Silverman said. “BTN and FS1 have made a proposal to Comcast dating back to February, and we’ve had no substantive response at all. As a result, we believe BTN and those Big Ten games that are on FS1 are in danger of not being carried on Comcast this coming season. So we are letting people know this to alert Comcast subscribers of this real possibility they may lose these games.”

“The good news is that Comcast will be alone if they decide to drop BTN and those Big Ten games on FS1. These games are available on many different television providers, cable, satellite and the new Internet providers as well, and viewers will have no problem finding alternative providers in their area.”

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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