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Canzano: Pac-12 commissioner breaks his silence
George Kliavkoff gives exclusive interview.
George Kliavkoff broke his silence. The Pac-12 Conference commissioner spoke at length with Jon Wilner and me in a podcast published on Tuesday.
Kliavkoff went radio-silent after the conference’s Media Day in late July. The commissioner has been visible at a series of non-conference football games, showing up at high-profile Pac-12 matchups in Atlanta, Gainesville, Fla. and Madison, Wisc., for example. But the commissioner hasn’t said a peep on the record in months.
Until now, that is.
“We’ve been heads down, trying to get our work done,” Kliavkoff said.
The Pac-12 is knee deep in a critical media-rights negotiation. Conference leadership and its consultants are sorting out a variety of questions. Among them, weighing how much inventory should be sold to a digital streaming service vs. traditional linear-television distributors.
Said Kliavkoff: “You’re thinking about it exactly the right way — it’s a balancing act. That’s the way we’re thinking about it.”
I suppose it’s wise to avoid negotiating in the media, but going dark left major constituents feeling adrift during a time of crisis. Kliavkoff’s public comments were overdue.
In a 35-minute interview, he didn’t speak to potential partners such as ESPN, FOX, Apple and Amazon. (But I’m sure they’ll listen.) He wasn’t really even talking to his 10 remaining conference members, either. Rather, the commissioner spoke to fans, alumni, recruits and the public.
They had it coming.
In the talk, Kliavkoff spoke candidly about his relationships with other commissioners. He believes UCLA will lose money — not make it — by going to the Big Ten. Kliavkoff also offered how delighted he was to see the Big Ten set a new market for live sports programming with its mega-deal.
“I was very, very happy with how the Big Ten’s media rights ended,” he said. “Do I wish they would have not included any schools from Los Angeles? Of course.”
We talked about how College Football Playoff expansion affects the landscape and what Kliavkoff thinks the future of college athletics should be. But I came away with a few other takeaways.
• CONFIDENCE: Kliavkoff sounded confident the Pac-12 won’t lose any of the 10 remaining conference members to the Big Ten or Big 12. I mean, he sounded rock-solid certain. It dovetails with what conference athletic directors have said to me over the last couple of months, but I was still a little surprised at the level of unwavering confidence he expressed.
“Listen, I think if schools would have left for the Big Ten, they would have left for the Big Ten already,” Kliavkoff said.
• STREAMERS: I am 99.9 percent sure that the Pac-12 will end up with a ton of content on Amazon and/or Apple or another streaming service. But I also think the conference knows it’s too soon to go all-in with a digital partner.
“Certainly revenue is at the top of the priority list but we have to also balance that against distribution,” Kliavkoff said. “We really want our content to be available to any of our fans who want to see it. I’ve set a goal that our content should be available to any piece of glass connected to the internet as part of our next media rights negotiation.”
The Pac-12 Networks content is owned by the conference. As a result, it’s not covered by any exclusive negotiating windows or contractual hoops to jump through. That has allowed the Pac-12 to negotiate freely with new partners. I suspect the bulk of the Pac-12 Network content is going to end up with a streaming service, available to anyone who wants to view it.
• EXPANSION: Kliavkoff talked about Pac-12 expansion, but he didn’t make it sound like a certainty. In fact, he didn’t really say adding schools has even been talked about, at least formally.
The commissioner did provide a rough timeline, though — get the media-rights deals done first, then make conference expansion decisions. I’m a little confused by the order of operation because potential conference expansion is a massive part of the media-rights calculus.
Maybe that’s been left to the consulting firms at this point. Or maybe it’s just poor form to put a network partner in the middle. ESPN and others, for example, wouldn’t want to be seen as brokering conference-realignment deals.
I’m not sure I believe that Pac-12 expansion hasn’t been seriously discussed, but it’s what Kliavkoff said. To that point, I’m just glad he’s talking.
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