Big Ten-Comcast reach deal

June 19, 2008 3:55:09 PM PDT
Finally, the Big Ten Network and Comcast Corp. reached a deal. The BTN and the Philadelphia-based cable carrier announced a multiyear agreement Thursday for programming that starts Aug. 15 on expanded basic cable in states with Big Ten schools: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Comcast doesn't have any subscribers in Iowa, the eighth Big Ten state.

Outside these states, Comcast has the option to move the channel on its Sports Entertainment Package and other tiers. After the 2008-09 basketball season ends, Comcast has the option to shift the network to its digital service in Big Ten states. Outside of the region, Comcast has the option to not offer the channel at all after the upcoming basketball season or to put it on its sports and entertainment package or other tiers of service.

Big Ten Network President Mark Silverman praised Thursday's deal.

"This agreement allows us to reach many more Big Ten fans with our programming because of the high concentration of Comcast subscribers in Big Ten states," he said in an e-mail message to The Associated Press. "With the Comcast deal now in place, the Big Ten Network will be available to more than two-thirds of all homes in Big Ten Country."

BTN programming includes coverage of every men's and women's sport played in the conference, from football and basketball to soccer and track.

Comcast has agreed to pay about 70 cents per subscriber to the Big Ten, which had sought $1.10. It's the first major cable operator to agree to carry the network.

The parties negotiated for more than a year. The Big Ten wanted to put the new network on Comcast's basic level of service at a price the company wasn't willing to pay.

In February, Michigan State men's basketball coach Tom Izzo expressed frustration with the stalemate after being flooded with letters and calls from fans angry that they couldn't see games they watched in the past.

"I think it has been a PR nightmare," Izzo said at the time.

"And I think it has hurt all of us."

Comcast has about 5 million customers with basic cable and 4 million with digital in Big Ten states. The sports network is owned by the Big Ten Conference and Fox Cable Networks.

--- AP Business Writer Deborah Yao in Philadelphia contributed to this report.