Canzano: Pac-12 -- and others -- playing lucrative consulting game
College conferences are writing big checks.
The Pac-12 Conference hired a crisis-management team in 2018. It was in real trouble and then-commissioner Larry Scott was desperate for a playbook.
He turned to high-profile public-relations firm, Fleishman-Hillard, who had previously worked with Chevrolet, Levi’s and helped usher USA Gymnastics through its horrific sex-abuse crisis.
Estimated cost to the Pac-12: $150,000.
Scott also turned to PulsePoint Group, a Texas-based consulting firm run by his close friend, Jeff Hunt. Staff members at the Pac-12 offices in San Francisco were subjected to regular “lunch and learn” events. Not only did they sit through presentations, they did so knowing that consultants typically charge $250,000 a year for that kind of work.
I understand why consultants are hired. Particularly in tricky media-rights negotiations and conference-expansion debates, where valuations are difficult to pinpoint. There’s valuable back-channeling that needs to happen, too. But I’m thinking today about the millions of dollars that will be spent by the major conferences getting outside opinions and guidance.
The Pac-12, now led by commissioner George Kliavkoff, hired a boutique firm, Sports Media Advisors, in July to help guide the conference on its media rights negotiations. And Navigate, a second Chicago-based consulting firm, is currently working with one of the other major college conferences.
I reached out to Navigate. The firm wouldn’t disclose which conference has currently retained its services, but it’s not likely the Big Ten. That conference uses a variety of other preferred consultants.
I shook my head when I read a few sentences from the Sports Business Journal on Wednesday morning that captured the spirit of the consulting game. The Pac-12 hired a firm called Endeavor more than a year ago. It was paid to help the Pac-12 explore potential conference expansion options.
From the SBJ piece:
Endeavor media consultants Karen Brodkin and Hillary Mandel worked with the Pac-12 to evaluate more than two dozen potential expansion targets before the conference ultimately decided to stand pat.
Now, the Big 12 is going through a similar exercise and its media consultants are Endeavor’s Brodkin and Mandel.
That the Pac-12 and Big 12 are renting the same consultants is interesting, but it turns out it’s not the first time.
Several months ago, the Big 12 hired TurnkeyZRG and paid that firm six figures to help conduct the search that led it to hire Brett Yormark as new conference commissioner. That very same search firm collected another six-figure check last year when it helped the Pac-12 hire Kliavkoff.
It’s sort of amusing, isn’t it?
It’s not just the major conferences, either.
Collegiate Sports Consulting, billed Portland State University $3,500 a month over nine months in 2021 to publish a 400-page analysis of the athletic department. A second firm, Collegiate Sports Associates, conducted Portland State’s search for a new athletic director last year. It charged a consulting fee of $30,000 for the task.
The AD hired in that search — John Johnson — has now been tasked by his university president to come up with a strategic plan. Johnson promptly hired a group of consultants to help with his analysis.
Said one PSU insider: “It’s a fool’s errand.”
SEATING CHART: Oregon State only has 26,407 seats to sell this football season due to the $150 million renovation project going on at Reser Stadium. University administrators are now saying they expect all home games will be sold out.
The Nov. 26 home date vs. Oregon is already a sell out. There were only 100 tickets left for the Sept. 24 game vs. USC, per my pal Nick Daschel, who covers the team. OSU confirmed that the other four home games all had fewer than 1,500 tickets left.
If you’d like to see Oregon State play vs. Boise State, Washington State, Colorado, or Cal this season, you’d better get on it. Reduced capacity and an improved on-field product is creating an interesting study of supply and demand.
Athletic director Scott Barnes told me OSU decided not to raise season-ticket prices this season. Also, he shared that ticket renewals were “tracking at the best renewal rate in more than a decade.” And 6,000 of the seats this season — 23 percent of stadium capacity — are reserved for student tickets.
Once the Reser Stadium renovation is completed, OSU’s premium seating will be touted as the closest to the action in the conference. The seats are being constructed just 100 feet from the playing field.
The renovation also includes:
“Living Room Boxes” and “Loge Boxes” with leather seats, personal television sets, storage, and digital concession service at their box.
A “Founder’s Box” with marble floors, a wood-paneled bar and a high-end restaurant feel.
“Beaver Street” will be a fan-friendly streetscape built inside the stadium that will offer concessions, views of the field, and a 360-degree concourse.
The trend in sports has been to reduce stadium sizes and increase premium-seating options. OSU is doing just that at Reser Stadium with the addition of loge boxes, living-room boxes and a more luxurious experience. The fans who still love coming to the stadium are apparently willing to pay a little more to get better amenities.
SHOOTING PRACTICE: Oregon football coach Dan Lanning created an Olympics-style, team-building competition for his players in fall camp. One of the contests was a basketball-shooting challenge. He called upon UO women’s basketball coach Kelly Graves and asked if the team might use the practice gym — and also — get some shooting instruction.
“Was fun. Very brief. Just taught them the fundamentals of shooting,” Graves said.
Can any of the football players shoot?
Oregon sophomore tight end Tyler Nanny caught Graves’ eye. Nanny was a four-year letterman and all-league selection in basketball at Amador Valley High (Pleasanton, Calif.)
“Tyler has a beautiful shot,” Graves said. “Picture perfect.”
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Hope Oregon St. has a better plan for paying for all this than Cal did.
It’s easy to bash consultants and for sure there are plenty of examples of them being overused. But I would maintain that for these media negotiations, they are likely justified. As a conference, you’re negotiating something like this once every 5 years or whatever, so you can’t possibly hope to match the expertise of these networks which are negotiating deals all the time with other conferences, other sporting leagues, other networks, etc. Bringing in an expert for a short period of time is far more effective and less expensive than trying to maintain that little used expertise on staff.