pac-12 network-kirk schulz-washington state

The Pac-12 has reportedly hired a top PR firm in its latest effort to convince everyone that everything’s fine and there’s nothing to see here. As per usual, this news comes from a report by John Canzano in The Oregonian, in which he details why it is Larry Scott and the rest of the conference leadership felt the need to make this move.

From The Oregonian:

FleishmanHillard, whose notable clients include Levi’s, Chevrolet, JPMorgan Chase, Crocs and Alibaba Group, has been retained by the conference. In 2017, Fleishman took the lead on crisis-management work for USA Gymnastics, which was enmeshed in a sex-abuse scandal.

Documents obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive outline the Pac-12 Conference’s relationship with the public-relations agency. In an Oct. 31 memo addressed to the Pac-12 CEO Group, the conference’s head of communications, Andrew Walker, indicated that one of the primary objectives of a new communication strategy was to protect and enhance the Pac-12 brand.

Considering one of the complaints lodged against Larry Scott’s leadership has been a tendency to spend wastefully, bringing on a high-powered PR firm to try and improve public perception is certainly a bold decision.

Perhaps, and here’s another bold idea, the conference could consider being less bad at all the things other leagues seem to get right. Like not having a league higher-up call in from home and overturn a replay decision, for example, which is apparently the moment that sparked the conference’s decision to hire the crisis management agency.

At the time, the conference was smack in the middle of an instant-replay officiating scandal. League executive Woodie Dixon interfered with the outcome of a call during the Sept. 21 Washington State vs. USC game. The Pac-12 was reeling.

Walker wrote to the Pac-12 university presidents and chancellors in that memo: “Our shared interest in a strong Pac-12 brand is a strategic priority given the brand’s impact on the valuation of our collective media and sponsorship rights, recruitment efforts on campuses, impact on overall University brands, and NCAA selection processes in football and basketball, among other reasons.”

Obviously there’s a lot more to the Pac-12’s recent issues than just one incident, however. Their conference network is still languishing, with the New York Times citing SNL Kagan’s report that the Pac-12 Network is in around 19 million homes. The SEC Network and Big Ten Network, meanwhile, are in a respective 59 million and 51 million homes. This despite the fact that the Pac-12 has what should be a lucrative footprint.

That lack of television revenue has forced schools into competing with fewer resources, and it’s showed up on the field and on the court. The Pac-12 hasn’t had a playoff representative since Washington’s uncompetitive Peach Bowl loss to Alabama two years ago, and only two overall dating back to the first iteration, when Oregon was blown out by Ohio State in the championship game.

In men’s basketball, meanwhile, the Pac-12 has had exactly one team appear in the Final Four over the last ten seasons, when Oregon made it in 2017. Obviously the NCAA Tournament is a poor way to judge a conference overall, given the baked-in randomness, but there’s no denying the league hasn’t been a player on the biggest stages of the two main revenue-generating sports.

Perhaps that’s why Larry Scott is considering selling off 10% of the conference for an immediate cash influx, another big reason the league is working with a PR firm. That’s a move that could theoretically boost performance on the field, which (again, theoretically) could help boost the value of league media rights as they go up for negotiation in a few years. The risk, of course, is the valuation doesn’t move at all, or not high enough to outweigh the fact that some private equity firm is now entitled to 10% of the packages.

As for what the PR firm will be providing:

The internal memo aimed at the Pac-12 CEO Group from Walker listed the recommended objectives and strategies from FleishmanHillard.

Among the recommendations:

  • “Conduct in-depth analysis of the influencer landscape to identify neutral to positive voices and systematically build relationships with these influencers to shift the conversation.”
  • “Expand upon media partnerships with The Players’ Tribune and Los Angeles Times and identify new national partner(s) to increase national and regional coverage.”
  • “Enlist one of comedy’s great ‘coaches’ or ‘fans’ to star in a digital series that addresses the challenges of last-minute schedule and late games in a way that honors the true commitment of the Pac-12 fan.”

Sounds like all of the Pac-12’s problems are about to be solved.

[The Oregonian]

About Jay Rigdon

Jay is a writer and editor for The Comeback, and a contributor at Awful Announcing. He is not a strong swimmer.