UPDATED with Comcast response: With the college football season just weeks away from kickoff, the head of the Big Ten Network has laid down the gauntlet with the nation’s No. 1 cable operator as carriage negotiations have foundered.
Mark Silverman, president of Fox Sports National Networks and BTN, said there has been no “substantive response” to Fox’s deal proposals. In a pointed speech this morning at Big Ten Media Day in Chicago, he warned that Fox’s deal with Comcast is expiring on September 1 and a blackout could threaten Big Ten football and basketball games on the network and FS1.
“I am letting everyone know this in order to alert Comcast subscribers of the real possibility that they may lose BTN and Big Ten football games on FS1 this season,” he said. “The good news here is that Comcast will be alone if it decides to drop BTN and Big Ten football games on FS1. BTN and Big Ten football games on FS1 are available on many different TV providers – cable, satellite and new Internet providers – and viewers will have no problem finding an alternate provider in their area.”
Comcast issued a statement aimed at calming the waters and disputing the assertion that it had not responsive. “Comcast’s agreements with content providers, like the Big Ten Network, expire from time to time,” the statement said. “We are communicating with the Big Ten Network about continuing to carry it after August 31 and look forward to productive negotiations.”
The saber-rattling follows a period when BTN and the other regional sports networks owned by 21st Century Fox have been in the spotlight due to Disney’s pending $71 billion deal to acquire much of Fox. A settlement reached by Disney with the U.S. Department of Justice will require the divestiture of the RSNs as a condition of DOJ approval, though exactly who would step up to buy the $20 billion-plus portfolio has not yet become clear. The RSNs, which also include the Yankees’ home network, YES, are widely viewed as beachfront properties in the revenue-generating realm of live sports.
BTN going dark on Comcast would be bad news for fans of Michigan, Ohio State and the conference’s other high-profile teams, all of which enjoy sizable national followings. One marquee football matchup will be September 22, when Michigan and Nebraska are scheduled to meet on FS1. Other games will be announced in the coming days.
As carriage negotiations continue, Fox will deploy a common tactic beginning today, Silverman said. A media campaign by Big 10 Network will update viewers about the situation and suggest alternative providers in their areas as well as how they can contact Comcast to vent their frustration.
The summer showdown follows a decision by Comcast in the spring, per Fox, to drop BTN in 29 states, all in areas outside of the Big Ten conference’s home markets.