We here at Awful Announcing have been rubbernecking the Pac-12’s march to a new tv deal for quite awhile now. For those late to the party, the Pac 12 is trying to thread a very small needle that will hopefully keep the conference intact going forward and keep them close enough in prestige and money to other members of the Power 5 conferences.
In the wake of USC and UCLA announcing their departure from the conference, the path here is going to likely require expanding the conference to add more teams (San Diego State and SMU are perceived to be the most likely), putting a lot of games on a streaming service (Amazon or Apple are believed to be the most likely), finding a television partner who will pony up, and figuring out what to do with the disaster that are the Pac-12 Networks.
The other possible outcome is that commissioner George Kliavkoff comes up short and the best media deal is some combination of not enough money or not enough exposure. That could see schools looking to abandon the Pac-12, with Oregon and Washington believed to be in play as options for the Big Ten and Utah, Arizona, Arizona State, and Colorado believed to already be playing footsie with the Big 12.
Rivaling updates on the Pac-12’s progress have been frequent, with leaks aplenty! Read one article and you’ll get a narrative of “Everything is fine! Everyone is happy! We’re almost done! Don’t worry about it!” However, there are also quite a few updates that seem to say “Man, that iceberg is really big and we’re headed right towards it!”
— Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) February 13, 2023
In February the Pac 12 put out a weird “Everything is fine” statement saying a deal would be announced in the very near future. Here we are in April. And now, The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel has reported that the timeline has been pushed back again. to “late spring or early summer”.
Pac-12 TV update: The timeline for a deal is now "late spring, early summer" according to a person with knowledge of the discussions.
Several Pac-12 presidents had recently said a deal was imminent. The source said those comments were "overly optimistic."
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) April 6, 2023
Mandel and fellow Athletic writer Max Olson provided another update hours later. There, they wrote that the conference may have pushed back the timeline because they are talking to a new television partner. With CBS, Turner, Fox and others reportedly already having walked away from the conference, who exactly could this be? From The Athletic:
“The delay may be in part because of the emergence of a new potential partner. Two sources indicated there have been recent discussions between the Pac-12 and The CW, a national over-the-air broadcast network better known for scripted shows like “Gossip Girl,” “Supernatural” and “Riverdale.” Since purchasing The CW Network last year, parent company Nexstar Media Group has expressed interest in procuring live sports rights, announcing in January a deal with LIV Golf.”
So if you’re scratching your head here (or perhaps banging your head against a wall), The CW is undergoing a massive strategy change right now. With younger viewers (which was The CW’s target audience) being less likely to watch broadcast TV, the network is now pivoting to older viewers. This is probably a smart change for them. A possible deal with the Pac-12 might end up being good for them as well as the conference in terms of getting a huge amount of sports on the network that does bring them the viewers demographics they want.
But despite that this could be a good partnership (if one is reached), I think selling it to Pac-12 schools and fans is going to be near impossible. Sports bars don’t regularly tune to the CW, and their LIV Golf ratings have not been great. I’m guessing if you still have cable, you probably can’t name what channel the CW is.
It’s just weird. And if you’re a conference hoping to be anointed as viable with your peers, this doesn’t exactly scream “We’re competitive with the SEC.” If you’re one of the schools in the Pac-12 that has some options to leave, I think unless The CW just throws insane money at this (a sentence I didn’t think we’d ever be saying on this site), then this could be the last straw before you begin to look at your exit options in earnest.
So here we are again, hitting the snooze button on the fate of the Pac-12 while member schools await the good news they are hoping for. Maybe it does come in the next few months. Or maybe the harsh light of a new reality creeps in, where the Pac-12 joins the Big East as a power conference that was kicked out of the club because of television money that never materialized.