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Canzano: Delusion aside -- the Big 12 has nothing on the Pac-12
The numbers (and brands) don't lie.
The Pac-12 Conference’s top universities get better television ratings than Big 12 counterparts. The Pac-12 has bigger TV markets, superior brands, stronger broad-based athletic programs, better academics, and higher-profile members.
The Pac-12 also includes the Pacific and Mountain Time Zones that media partners covet. The notion that the Big 12 is somehow stronger than the Pac-12 is delusional from any quantitative standpoint.
Still, some in Big 12 country insist it’s true.
Stewart Mandel of The Athletic published an interesting study that compared the television impact of the Big 12 vs. Pac-12. He looked at TV ratings from 2015-2019 and 2021 for the remaining universities in each conference.
The Pac-12 won by knockout.
The top six remaining Pac-12 universities out-ranked all the remaining Big 12 universities by average rating. Oregon, Stanford, Washington, Washington State, Colorado and Utah all averaged more than 1.44 million viewers per game. Oklahoma State was the Big 12’s top-rated product, weighing in at 1.28 million viewers.
The ability to kick off games at 10:30 p.m. ET — “Pac-12 After Dark” — creates a distinct ratings advantage for the conference. Wrote Mandel: “As much as Pac-12 coaches and fans loathe those late games, they may be the league’s saving grace in its next deal.”
I’ve looked hard at the Big 12 in recent weeks, trying to figure out whether a merger with the Pac-12 made sense (Answer: nope). I also examined the Big 12’s TV markets and wondered if there was a no-brainer target for the Pac-12 to poach (Answer: nope).
I also don’t think the Big 12 is a strong candidate to lure away any of the remaining Pac-12 universities. When I asked Pac-12 athletic directors about the possibility of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and ASU leaving, I was told another round of defections was unlikely as long as Oregon and Washington remained in the Pac-12.
One current AD said: “I don’t know where all this ‘the Big 12 is better’ stuff is coming from. You wouldn’t trade our troubles for theirs.”
The Big 12 lost Texas and Oklahoma. Like the Pac-12, it’s watching the Big Ten and SEC position themselves as mega-conferences in front of what will be an expanded College Football Playoff. The holdover TV markets in the Big 12 have a combined 10.25 million television households. The Pac-12, even without the Los Angeles TV market, has 12.4 million.
The Big 12 will add another 5 million TV homes with the additions of BYU, Houston, Cincinnati and UCF, but that doesn’t solve the time-zone conundrum. The Big 12’s top games will always be stuck in head-to-head battles with the best inventory of the new-and-improved Big Ten and SEC. The Pac-12’s late kickoffs may stink for fans and media, but ESPN needs them and will pay for them.
I suspect that we’re going to soon learn that the “talks” with the Big 12 about a possible merger were never really that serious. Also, that the Big 12 spun out of the rejection in damage-control mode, eager to craft an alternate narrative.
I’m not sure what a merger with the Big 12 even offered, aside from strength in numbers. Or maybe the state of Texas. But the more I thought about it, teaming up with the Big 12 made little sense for the Pac-12.
If you’re the Pac-12 and looking for an advantageous partnership, you’d first turn to the ACC (28 million-plus TV households). If you are the Pac-12 and looking to poach programs, you’d probably turn to San Diego State (1.1 million TV households in the Pacific Time Zone). And the world views of the typical university presidents and chancellors in the Pac-12 footprint don’t mesh easily with those of the Big 12’s leaders.
We’re going to hear from Pac-12 leaders this week as part of the conference’s football media day. Commissioner George Kliavkoff needs to answer some tough questions and may even have some news to share. But before that, the delusion about Big 12 superiority has to stop.
Big 12 fans are nervous about being left behind. Some of the same hysteria swept over the Pac-12 in the wake of the USC/UCLA news. But it’s been replaced by logic, reason and a search for good options. The Pac-12 is the better conference. Period. End stop. The only question now is what ESPN and others are willing to pay to carry its games.
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