SBJ Unpacks: EXCLUSIVE: Apple back in on Big Ten talks – Sports Business Journal

Tonight in Unpacks: EXCLUSIVE: Apple reaches back out to Big Ten on media rights after news of USC and UCLA coming aboard. SBJ’s John Ourand and Michael Smith break it down.
Miss this morning’s Buzzcast? SBJ’s Abe Madkour discusses Brett Yormark taking the Big 12 reins on Aug. 1, and Canton welcomes Joe Browne and others with Awards of Excellence.
Soon after the news about USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten broke, an Apple exec called the conference with a simple message: It wanted to reengage in media-rights talks, report SBJ’s John Ourand and Michael Smith. That call was emblematic of a chaotic day where media companies that had spent months finalizing how much they would pay for Big Ten rights were rushing back to the drawing board to see how the addition of two high-profile schools would change their bidding strategy.
It seems certain that negotiations now will extend into August and may be completed after Labor Day. Originally, the Big Ten had been planning to wrap up its rights negotiations at some point in July. The Big Ten was expected to be the first college conference to eclipse $1 billion in media-rights fees annually — and that was before USC and UCLA said they would join. The Big Ten presidents officially voted to add the two schools tonight.
Fox Sports already had reached a deal to carry at least half of the conference’s package, and CBS was viewed as a front-runner to take at least a package of Saturday football games in the 3:30pm ET window. That left Amazon, ESPN and NBC competing for a third package. As late as this morning, Apple and Warner Bros. Discovery were not viewed as credible bidders. That could all change.
Media valuations are based on the addition of two more schools’ worth of games, plus a noticeable improvement in the quality of games on offer, which will make the second and third choices of games more attractive to networks each week.

The move also makes the Big Ten more valuable to media companies by devaluing a Plan B for the companies that don’t get Big Ten rights. Yesterday, media companies left out of the Big Ten would have turned their focus to the Pac-12. But the defections of USC and UCLA have caused media companies to question the value of focusing on the Pac-12.
Today’s blockbuster news culminated a whirlwind of back-and-forth discussions over the last five days. The Big Ten had been in serious talks with the leadership at both universities for more than two months, but the discussions turned more urgent over the past weekend. The schools reached out in tandem to Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren on Sunday to accelerate the process, saying that they wanted to apply for membership immediately. That led up to today’s bombshell that the Trojans and Bruins would be joining the Big Ten in 2024.
When the news broke earlier today, the Pac-12 and commissioner George Kliavkoff were completely blindsided, sources say. USC and UCLA formally submitted their applications for membership on Monday. Warren took them to an emergency meeting of Big Ten presidents and chancellors on Wednesday night and found them receptive. The formal vote occurred a short time ago.
The addition of USC and UCLA marks a huge win for the Big Ten’s Warren, and further separates the Big Ten and SEC — the two richest leagues in the land — from the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12. It also calls into question the future of football independent Notre Dame and access to the College Football Playoff. The moves today also created a new narrative around “What’s next?”
While the Big Ten contemplates its next move, schools from other conferences already have begun reaching out about membership opportunities, sources say.
In a big win for the A’s hopes of staying in Oakland, the San Francisco Conservation & Development Commission on Thursday voted in favor of removing the “port priority use area” designation from Howard Terminal, allowing the A’s new ballpark project to move forward at the port site, reports SBJ’s Erik Bacharach. A’s President Dave Kaval called it “do-or-die vote.”
Twenty-three members of the 27-person committee voted in favor, meeting the two-thirds requirement to re-designate the site, which came during a nearly seven-hour hearing that included public comments from hundreds of stakeholders and community members. In May, the BCDC staff had recommended that its commission move the Howard Terminal ballpark plan forward, suggesting the new designation would not detract from the region’s capability to meet the projected growth in cargo.
“(Thursday’s vote) is very positive momentum for us and Oakland,” Kaval told SBJ. The A’s, whose Howard Terminal proposal includes a $12 billion waterfront development centered around a $1 billion ballpark, still need approval from the Oakland City Council on a final development agreement. A date for the council to approve such an agreement hasn’t been set.
Kaval emphasized a sense of urgency in having that agreement taken up by city council before the group sees significant turnover later this year; Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, whom Kaval called one of the project’s biggest proponents, is nearing the end of her term.
Meanwhile, the A’s continue to move forward with their contingency plans in Las Vegas. The club is in negotiations with “a couple of final sites in the resort corridor,” Kaval said. The A’s current lease at 55-year-old RingCentral Coliseum is set to expire after the 2024 season. “With the process in Oakland taking so long to get to a definitive answer,” he said, “the momentum we build there (in Vegas) is really important, because we have to have somewhere to play.”
A’s President Dave Kaval called today a “do-or-die vote" on the Howard Terminal project
With LIV Golf teeing off on U.S. soil for the first time today, the fledgling Saudi Arabia-financed circuit vows that it ultimately will be a profitable enterprise and views last week’s countermove by the PGA Tour — significantly increasing purses for several events next year — as evidence that its concept will resonate with golfers and fans alike, writes SBJ’s Eric Prisbell in this week’s magazine.

Interviews with LIV execs, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about their long-term strategy, say that their two-pronged business model, focused on both the league and its 12 golf teams generating revenue, offers “unlimited potential.” And because of the enormous size of its war chest, LIV is afforded time, and a longer runway to profitability.
Even at this early stage, LIV execs claim they have engaged in discussions with some of the most prominent private equity firms that invest in sports globally, which are interested in investing in teams, but declined to name them.
LIV expects to ultimately start making money from its events, but how soon remains an open, important question. QuintEvents handles ticketing and hospitality for the property.
Beyond the events, LIV believes in its unique team concept and estimates that its teams could become profitable in a couple of years and valued at more than $100 million apiece in as soon as five years. With the commercial values of the players forming teams estimated at $10 million-$20 million in off-course earnings, they said, opportunities will exist to sell commercial rights as a team.
Here’s a roundup of some PGA Tour/LIV Golf headlines from across SBJ feeds today:
With all the buzz surrounding the golf world today, SBJ’s “Strictly Business” discussion on Twitter Spaces today went deep on the PGA Tour and LIV Golf.
SBJ’s Josh Carpenter and David Rumsey were joined by Sports Illustrated’s Bob Harig and Brendan Porath of The Fried Egg. Among topics discussed:
Check out more on the discussion here.
State Farm Arena in Atlanta will have its first major esports event when it plays host to the League of Legends World Championship semifinals later this year, reports SBJ’s Hongyu Chen. The venue replaces Scotiabank Arena in Toronto as host for the semis.
Naz Aletaha, the global head of League of Legends Esports at Riot Games, said that the reason behind this change was due to “COVID-19 impacting the viability of securing multi-entry visas to the Canada within necessary timelines.” Aletaha expects Riot to bring a major League of Legends event to Toronto in the future.
Atlanta will be part of the multi-city North American tour for this year’s League of Legends World Championship, alongside Mexico City (play-in), New York City (group stage) and San Francisco (finals). This year is the first time since the pandemic began that the multi-city tour had returned. Back in 2019, the Worlds tour included Berlin and Madrid before ending in Paris.
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