The Pac-12 (soon to be the Pac-10 after UCLA and USC leave…. but maybe the Pac-12 again after some expansion) is in the thick of trying to get their next television deal done. It’s extremely imperative the conference locks down a comparable deal to the Big 12’s recent extension with ESPN and Fox. The Big 12’s new deal will reportedly net each member school $31.6 million a year. The Big 12 opted to jump ahead of the Pac-12 (who was on deck to negotiate their next TV deal), finalized their deal quickly, and now have openly played footsie with Pac-12 schools as they wait and see if their next television deal will be competitive. The Pac-12 seemed to think on the heels of the Big 12’s deal that staying competitive was not going to be an issue. A handful of months later, we are on the verge of finding out if that’s the case.
On Monday, the Pac-12 put out this word salad of a statement that indicated things weren’t looking good.
— Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) February 13, 2023
The Pac-12 is already in some level of peril with USC and UCLA on their way to the Big Ten and with the very real possibility that down the road the Big Ten will return for a second helping that would likely include at least Washington and Oregon and perhaps Stanford. The popular thinking is that this second wave of additions to the Big Ten wasn’t fully supported by enough Big Ten schools, was punted to a later date, played a role in former commissioner Kevin Warren moving on, and now is TBD with the Big Ten’s next commissioner either moving forward or moving away from the idea of further expansion.
While the Pac-12 tries to ignore that potential doomsday situation, the more pressing concern is if their television deal fails to get close to the Big 12’s there is a very real chance that Utah, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and perhaps others decide they would prefer to split for the greener pastures of the Big 12 rather than continuing to hope for the best with the Pac-12.
Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff has finally been spotted at the SMU basketball game, with other Pac-12 officials.
It took some searching with binoculars and a photog but we found him in a suite. Here is a bad photo. pic.twitter.com/Sm5AXIHt6j
— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) February 9, 2023
So as the clock ticks down, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff is essentially running around trying to put out the following fires:
- Getting media partners to pony up enough money to keep the conference in tact… at least for a bit longer.
- Trying to see if media partners will pay more money to the conference (per school) if they add schools like San Diego State and SMU, then trying to convince those schools to join, and then also trying to get existing schools to sign off on those additions.
- Convincing schools that the new TBD TV deal is enough to stick around as Kliavkoff cannot actually sign any deal until the conference members agree to extend their rights to the conference so they can execute any new deal.
The PAC show of unity tweet…. Eerily similar to communications the BIgEast put out just before it’s demise right before Pitt/Cuse/WVU/Rutgers/Louisville bolted.
— MHver3 (@MHver3) February 14, 2023
Achieving all of this is not going to be easy and if one or two dominoes fall the wrong way, things could get sketchy fast. If you recall the old Big East played this game and poof – the Power Six conferences then became the Power Five. We’re essentially now just rubbernecking Kliavkoff and the Pac-12 to see if the Power Five starts to contract further to become more of a Power Four situation.
So what’s the latest?
CBS & Turner are currently no longer involved in Pac-12’s media rights negotiations, sources told @ActionNetworkHQ
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) February 15, 2023
Fox is currently a Pac-12 media partner. How about them?
The above clip was from last week and this is a decently polite attempt way to say “not interested” and boy does the long pause before the answer say a lot here.
“We’ve set our strategy and I think we’re really content and able to be opportunistic. If there was something opportunistically with the Pac-12, but now that we have the Big Ten and the Big 12 done I think we’re content with where we are and if something came up, we’d certainly look at it.”
That one stings a bit because when your current television partners is so firmly not interested, it really signals a lot to the marketplace. Often you see legacy media partners feign serious interest in an extension to help keep the market high for any new partners to a) make competitors spend more so they have less money to spend on other sports rights, b) help out a partner they’ve established a relationship with. That’s not at all the case here between Fox and the Pac-12.
What many have assumed for a while is that the Pac-12 is likely going to end up with some type of split rights agreement between Amazon and ESPN. While that could indeed be the lifeline the conference needs at this point, the noise from those negotiations has not been trending well for the conference. Per The Athletic:
ESPN remains interested in the Pac-12, particularly in the league’s 10:30 p.m. ET games, but New York Post sports media writer Andrew Marchand reported last fall that the Pac-12 and ESPN were “hundreds of millions apart.” Which may explain why the Pac-12 is looking at possibly putting the majority of its games on a streaming platform. Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand predicted in December the league will “sell almost its entire media package to Amazon for a price that is slightly higher than what the Big 12 gets from ESPN and Fox.”
CLIP: ESPN and the Pac 12 are hundreds of million apart on a new deal, I'm told.
— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) September 14, 2022
With CBS, Fox, and WBD all no longer actively in the mix, you would think the urgency on ESPN and Amazon to increase their bids is pretty non-existent at this point. Who are they bidding against? That’s probably the reality driving Kliavkoff to attempt to fast-track expansion of SMU and others. It’s basically the part of the movie Michael Clayton where the title character is told “Do everyone a favor. Get out the treasure map and start digging. You got a week. “
That said, another way to read into McMurphy’s update about CBS and WBD no longer bidding on Pac-12 rights is perhaps a signal that the conference is really close to having a done deal with ESPN and Amazon and one that quells the current crisis for now. If that’s the case, kudos to Kliakoff for powering through. We’ll find out soon.
Either way it is a bit deflating as a college sports fan to see conferences in danger of splintering like this or even flirt with that terrible outcome. Even the conferences that survive lose a lot of personality and shared identity when this happens. Kliavkoff may just hit his inside straight and convince the schools he needs to join the Pac-12, convince all existing members to stay in the Pac-12, and then convince Amazon and ESPN to pony up what they need to keep the conference together. For now. But it’s hard to deny that things are pretty precarious at this moment.
George Kliavkoff has quite a difficult task in front of him. He’ll probably own a lot of the success or failure of what shakes out here but sharper minds know the bad poker hand Kliavkoff is currently playing was the doing of his predecessor, Larry Scott, who is now nowhere near the table as the final cards for the fate of the conference of champions are flipped over.