Copyright 2016 Gannett Company, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
The Big Ten Network is approaching its 10th anniversary, but league Commissioner Jim Delany remembers the uncertainty and skepticism surrounding its launch.
From those at other networks. From some within in the conference. From plenty across the industry.
Now that most power conferences have followed -- the Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences have their own networks, and the Atlantic Coast Conference's is set to launch in 2019 -- it seems hard to believe that Delany wasn't sure his brainchild would work. He had to persuade Big Ten member schools' presidents and athletics directors to try it, knowing it might fail, knowing cable companies didn't necessarily buy in and knowing full well it could and would offend ESPN.
Once Fox came on board as a partner, Delany thought the network had a shot to survive. But the moment he knew it would not just be viable but succeed was an unexpected one: Appalachian State's historic upset of then-No.5 Michigan, on Sept. 1, 2007. It was the first game to be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.
"This is a wild thing to say, but the reaction by every other network in the country to the Appalachian State win over Michigan -- they all wanted to have a relationship with BTN to get the clips," Delany told USA TODAY Sports. "That showed me something. ... Everybody said, 'The BigTen Network has second-rate games.' That was the biggest upset in college football history.
"That wasn't a second-rate game. And we had footage. I was hoping for Michigan to win, but when Michigan lost, it actually created some college football history and made the network relevant."
Big Ten Network footage of the upset played across the nation. The name of the fledgling network was on anchors' lips.
"It was BTN on everyone's highlight show," Delany said. "It legitimized it."
The network broadcast a couple of games in which its heavyweights were playing: Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. These were relatively big games. And then by spring, big cable networks were open to discussions.
"By August of 2008, we added Time Warner and Comcast and Charter, and we were fully distributed," Delany said. "It was a year. It was a very tough year. We spent a lot of time on the trail, in state capitals, in Washington, doing editorial boards. It was an interesting, challenging, difficult time. I credit our institutions -- they could have taken the ESPN offer. They could have exercised the heavy, the risk associated with trying to start up.
"We could have failed. ESPN could have been so offended by it that maybe they wouldn't (work with us), but we ended up doing a nice deal with them, and we ended up having a cable network and we ended up maintaining a relationship with CBS. The rest is history. It's been, I think, an artistic success, a financial success and a promotional success."
Read More of Today's AB Headlines
Subscribe to Our Daily E-Newsletter