Canzano: Pac-12 -- and the rest of us -- caught in a battle over your television
Silver-lining playbook unveiled.
ESPN has a partnership with the SEC. Fox has the Big Ten in $1 billion handcuffs. And the Pac-12 is now a few days into an exclusive 30-day negotiating window with both ESPN and Fox.
The rest of us?
We’re stuck in college football television hell. Shifts in culture and the race to capture larger revenue streams have created a vortex where geography, history, on-field performance and tradition don’t matter nearly as much as the television footprint of your team.
The Pac-12 and ACC continue to explore a “loose partnership.” ESPN, the primary television network of the ACC, feels like the primary bidder for the embattled Pac-12. But even if the conference and the network agree on terms — let’s say as early as today — they’ll either need Fox to waive their rights or wait this out 28 more days.
Ex-Fox Sports Network president Bob Thompson told me recently not to expect the networks to play well together. The Big 12 blames ESPN for ushering Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC. And Fox, no doubt, greased the wheels for the USC and UCLA move to the Big Ten.
“I think the days of Fox and ESPN partnering on things like the Big 12 and Pac-12 are probably over for now,” Thompson said.
While we wait to see what happens with the Pac-12, it’s worth taking a look at the respective conferences and the number of TV households each brings. (You may have to zoom in if you’re viewing this on a mobile device. Sorry, but I wanted to give you the full picture.)
Here’s the Nielsen data for each of the major college football conferences:
The Pac-12, once at 19.3 million households, will have only 12.4 million without USC and UCLA in the conference. The Big Ten will have 33.9 million TV households after the expansion is complete in 2024.
The ACC’s total number of households: 28.2 million.
The Big 12’s: 15.1 million.
Some quick takeaways:
• A number of cities (i.e. Orlando, Salt Lake City and Washington, D.C.) are assigned to multiple conferences. TV executives tell me that’s customary practice. The aim is to measure maximum reach.
• Nielsen’s motto is: “Audience is everything.” What becomes evident in their data is that the Big 12 isn’t at all the right partner for the Pac-12. The ACC TV markets are superior. But there are several Big 12 programs (Baylor and Houston in particular) that would be attractive targets to replace the 5.7 million households that were lost when USC and UCLA defected.
• San Diego is worth 1.1 million television homes. Keep and eye on San Diego State as a possible fallback expansion option for the Pac-12 someday. I know the conference has also been contacted by SMU, Boise State, and Fresno State. Of that group, San Diego State and SMU have the largest TV impact.
• New York (7.4 million households) is an interesting study. The numbers make sense of the Big Ten’s decision to bring Rutgers into the fold once upon a time. Also, Syracuse (ACC) gets to claim that market, too.
• On-field performance matters. Brand matters. But nothing matters right now more than your favorite team’s television footprint and potential media revenue. Oregon is a good case study on that front. The Ducks have played in some huge games, had solid success and built an excellent brand. But Portland and the surrounding TV markets are only worth 1.1 million households. That makes Oregon worth ~$30 million a year or so, but it’s not enough to make UO a no-brainer acquisition for the Big Ten.
RECRUITING: Greg Biggins is the national recruiting analyst for 247Sports. I spoke to him on Wednesday. When Biggins heard the report last week about USC and UCLA leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten, he had an immediate thought — is this going to work out well for the Bruins?
“USC football should be fine,” Biggins told me, “but UCLA football? I hope they invest in football, invest in assistant coaching, or it could be tough for them.”
I asked Biggins if we’d might soon see Big Ten schools trying to poach Southern California talent: “It’s already happening. You’re hearing kids who are saying, ‘I got a call from Michigan State.’”
Oregon has recruited the Southern California region particularly well over the years. Former Ducks’ coach Mario Cristobal had a lot of success beating USC and UCLA with talent from their own backyard. Does the departure of the Bruins and Trojans from the Pac-12 hurt Oregon more than some others because of that?
“I don’t think it closes any doors,” Biggins said. “I think those kids were choosing Oregon because they loved Oregon. They’d loved the coaching, the uniforms, they loved that. I don’t think they were coming to Oregon because it was going to play USC or UCLA once a year.”
DUMB STUFF: People say dumb things all the time. But I was reminded about something Arizona State president Michael Crow said three years ago that now sounds ridiculous.
It might be the dumbest thing ever said when it comes to the Pac-12. Or at least top-5.
Crow was one of the old-guard members of the CEO Group and a staunch enabler of the conference’s poor leadership. With the Pac-12 in crisis and bleeding cash, Crow told Jeff Metcalfe of the Arizona Republic in Jan. 2019, “What somebody will be writing about three years from now or four years will be, ‘How did the Pac-12 get ahead of us.’”
Here we are — three years later. Nobody is writing about the Pac-12 being “ahead” now. But Crow’s comment got me thinking about some other things that have been said in the Pac-12 over the years.
Here are some of the other “top-5 dumbest things said about the PAC-12:
I remember one-time Trojans’ head coach Steve Sarkisian showing up at conference media day in 2015 and saying, “We all came to USC to win.”
USC fired Sark a few months later.
Ex-Washington head coach Jimmy Lake told me at Pac-12 Media Day last year, “I can’t wait to play Oregon.”
That game eventually caused Lake all sorts of problems. First, he stepped in a mess in the run-up to the Oregon matchup when he made a comment about the “academic prowess” of UO. Then, during the game itself, Lake lost his cool on the sideline. He shoved a player and was let go by UW six days later.
I once wrote that I thought Gary Andersen was “exactly the right guy” to turn around Oregon State’s football program. Andersen turned around himself and walked away midseason.
Some other dumb stuff, courtesy of conference leadership:
In 2011, at Pac-12 Media Day, commissioner Larry Scott opened his remarks with: “First, let me start by welcoming you to the FOX Studios here in Los Angeles, the first time we're holding our media day here. In Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world, an important center for the Pac-12 conference.”
That “center” and entertainment capital is still under the command of Fox, but now belongs to the Big Ten.
At Pac-12 football Media Day in 2019, Scott said: “We own and control all of our media rights and have all of our rights coming up in 2024, we continue to feel very good about how we’re positioned for the future.”
BOWL RESURGENCE: I talked with Mark Schipper of 5th Down College Football on Wednesday about the chaos and money grabbing we’re seeing in college football.
I asked him to find me a silver lining. Schipper pointed out that the expensive, meaningless bowl games that have wilted in recent years might find a revival under a new and expanded College Football Playoff in 2025 and beyond.
Said Schipper: “The old bowl system is dead. Television ratings are down, payouts are down, players aren’t participating in the games like they once did. If they incorporate the bowls into the postseason and they’re playing knockout games in the bowls, that’s going to renew interest the bowl games.”
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