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Canzano: Pac-12 Conference gets a much-needed win
"Our strategy is sound."
The Big Ten Conference won’t partner with ESPN in the next cycle of media rights contracts, per reports. For the first time in 40 years, the Big Ten football and men’s basketball games won’t be included among the worldwide leader’s programming.
The Pac-12 is smiling today.
The Big Ten issued a statement saying nothing has been “finalized.” Still, if this holds up, it appears the “Conference of Champions” finally got a much-needed win.
ESPN reportedly pulled the plug on negotiations, walking from a seven-year, $380-million-a-year deal that would have left the network behind Fox and NBC in weekly pecking order. John Ourand, of Sports Business Journal, had the news first.
Word ripped across the Pac-12 footprint on Tuesday morning. It was greeted with enthusiasm and optimism. Conference athletic directors were already tuned in, aware that ESPN is the most likely Tier 1 bidder for the Pac-12’s rights. But the fear was that the network might overspend to continue its relationship with the Big Ten.
“This is where the real work begins,” said one Pac-12 Conference AD.
“Our strategy is sound,” added another.
“This contributes to further stability for the 10,” said a third.
Fox locked up the Tier 1 rights for the Big Ten weeks ago for an estimated $500 million a year. NBC and CBS are likely coming at $380 million and $350 million each for the second and third positions. Total estimated take: $1.23 billion. Because Fox owns 60 percent of the Big Ten Network, it sat in on negotiations for the Big Ten’s No. 2 and No. 3 partners.
Bob Thompson, the former Fox Sports Networks president, told me Fox’s presence in the room wasn’t customary.
“It probably made the other networks very uncomfortable.”
ESPN reportedly balked at a deal with the Big Ten. If the Pac-12 could have performed a cartwheel, it would have. It’s been a gut-wrenching five weeks since USC and UCLA announced they were defecting to the Big Ten. One Pac-12 athletic director who has been part of the turmoil associated with several different conference expansions and realignments offered some context.
“It always starts with shock, surprise and frustration, then folks who weren’t invited start knocking on doors asking why not us?” he said. “Then the dust settles and folks confront reality.”
The Pac-12 now needs to capitalize. It needs a strong, creative and lucrative media rights package and possible expansion. Those things now walk hand in hand.
George Kliavkoff, the Pac-12 commissioner, worked as an executive at Hulu in its infancy. He was also employed at NBC Universal. The new commissioner had a low bar to clear when he took over for Larry Scott and got good marks. But this media rights stuff is the kind of work Kliavkoff was hired to do. He’ll be judged on what happens in the next month.
Some additional thoughts:
• NBC is clearly trying to replicate its successful Sunday Night Football experience with a matching Saturday night college football bonanza. But Thompson, the former Fox executive, points out that “they aren’t going to have an exclusive window like they will on Sunday night. There’s gonna be a lot of other college games in that window. NBC’s pick is probably going to be the second or third best game that week.”
I’m not sure it works as well. You?
• Once the dust settles on media rights negotiations, access to the expanded College Football Playoff will become the major point of focus for all conferences. It will create a massive windfall for the conferences that participate. It’s why the media rights payouts and network affiliations are vital.
I expect the Big Ten’s wish to include multiple media bidders for the playoff rights will result in an NFL-like scenario where viewers watch playoff games on a variety of networks. But will viewers really watch college football playoff games like it’s the NFL?
• Two weeks ago, I asked Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff which was more important: A) media rights revenue; or B) access to the playoff. He said: “Both.”
You can’t easily have B without A, though. We’ve learned that in watching the Pac-12 fall woefully behind in the four-team playoff format.
• Kliavkoff told me at Pac-12 Media Day that he would wait to see what the Big Ten did with its media partners. Once that is settled, he anticipated the negotiations getting serious for the Pac-12. It feels that we’ve just about arrived at that juncture.
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