Canzano: Pac-12 in a dance with ESPN and knows who else might bid
Three things I know...
Pac-12 Football Media Day is scheduled for Friday at the Novo Theater in Los Angeles.
Commissioner George Kliavkoff will take the stage and try to shift the narrative on the state of the conference. Fox and ESPN are in an exclusive 30-day negotiating window with the Pac-12 that expires on Aug. 4.
I wondered how much Kliavkoff might know and be able to share on that front. So I reached out to Bob Thompson, the former president of Fox Sports Networks, for an answer.
Said Thompson: “He’s probably got a number from ESPN at this point. Is it their best, last, final? Probably not. But given there’s about a week to go they’ve got to be honing in on it.”
Thompson said the Pac-12 should also have an idea about the interest of other television and streaming bidders who aren’t involved in the exclusive window.
“Nothing precludes the others from reaching out or back-channeling their interest to the conference or most likely to the conference’s television consultant,” he said. “So he probably has a good idea who else out there might be interested.”
On whether a deal will get done before Aug. 4?
“I personally don’t think a deal is going to be done in the exclusive window unless it’s some kind of blow-me-away offer from ESPN,” Thompson said. “I think the conference will be wise and want to see who is on the outside looking in when the Big Ten option ends. There’s going to be some folks who expressed an interest in collegiate football who aren’t going to get it in the Big Ten deal.”
On potential expansion targets for the Pac-12:
“Certainly San Diego State and the San Diego market would be attractive,” Thompson said. “I kind of go back and forth after that between Las Vegas, Fresno and Boise. They’re almost interchangeable. None of them blow you away from a market standpoint. There’s not a real clear second partner for the Pac-12. Beyond that, you could go to SMU or try to poach the University of Houston before they get into the Big 12.”
On San Diego State:
“There’s no doubt in my mind that San Diego State is the No. 1 target — without a doubt — should they decide to go forward with expansion.”
GEOGRAPHY: Commissioner Kevin Warren took a victory lap during Big Ten Conference Media Day and fostered further unrest in the Pac-12 footprint. He used words such as “bold” and “aggressive” and he took a veiled shot at the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors. But it was what he said about poaching UCLA and USC that caught my attention.
Warren revealed that he conducted a study of every college market prior to taking the job with the Big Ten in 2019.
“One of the things that jumped out about USC, UCLA, and even the market of Los Angeles… they're the largest section of Big Ten alumni, other than in the Midwest, is in Los Angeles.”
Notre Dame is at the top of Warren’s wish list. As long as the Irish have access to the College Football Playoff and can negotiate a $75 million-plus media rights deal on their own with NBC, he may never get them. But if a high concentration of Big Ten alumni really is what gets Warren’s attention, I’d offer that Stanford/Cal would be high on his list of potential additions.
The Wall Street Journal conducted a study in 2018 and found that only four television markets drew more than 1 percent of the graduates from every Big Ten university. They were New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. Granted, those cities draw graduates from colleges nationwide and are heavily influenced by the industries of technology and politics. But it’s interesting that none of those cities are located in the midwest.
The Big Ten has now added Maryland, Rutgers, USC and UCLA. All of those markets had high concentrations of alumni. But also, they’re just major TV markets.
I don’t think Warren chased USC and UCLA primarily because he wants to connect with alumni of Big Ten campuses. It’s far more likely that Fox coveted the ability to span from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles in a manner no college conference has ever done. But I found it interesting that Warren mentioned it.
UNIFIED FOR NOW: The prevailing sentiment among the six Pac-12 athletic directors I’ve communicated with in the last two weeks is that the remaining 10 members of the conference feel like they’re in this together.
One told me, early on: “We have good options.”
Another said: “George is kicking ass.”
A third offered: “As long as Washington and Oregon stay in the fold, we’re going to be fine.”
A fourth said: “Phil Knight could help this. Even if it’s rhetoric, Phil Knight being supportive of the Pac-12 staying together would be meaningful.”
I’ve wondered whether unequal distributions of revenue from the conference might be on the table. To this point, I don’t have a good answer. Media rights distributions have mostly been even. There was a small provision in the last media deal that gave small bonuses to programs that appeared more frequently on ABC. But everyone got the same base distribution.
It’s partially what drove UCLA and USC into the arms of the Big Ten, I’m told. I don’t think that will change. But would the Pac-12 reward a member who reached the College Football Playoff by giving it a larger share of the CFP payout? Under the current deal, the bowl payouts are split evenly among the conference members.
I’ll be in Los Angeles for Media Day. I’ll share more in the coming 24-48 hours about what I learn.
I appreciate that you’re here for it.
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