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Canzano: Pac-12 on high alert after Big Ten reveal
Conference must play defense with Oregon, Washington, and others.
At halftime of the Oregon-Ohio State football game last season, I bumped into Kevin Warren and George Kliavkoff in the press box of Ohio Stadium.
The Big Ten commissioner and Pac-12 commissioner were good buddies back then. They were eating meals together and sat alongside each other at the game. After all, Warren and Kliavkoff were part of the so-called “alliance” and the two men humored me by posing for a quick photograph in the hallway.
The Big Ten Conference unveiled the details of its seven-year media rights deal on Thursday. It’s worth $1.2 billion a year, but the real kicker was the room it left for further conference expansion and lucrative escalation of the deal.
Be certain, Warren isn’t done trying to raid the Pac-12. Be sure, Kliavkoff knows it and understands his job just got more difficult.
More on that in a moment.
First a few quick thoughts on the Big Ten’s deal:
• $1.2 billion per year average over seven years is in line with the $1.23 billion estimate that former Fox Sports Networks President Bob Thompson floated to me a few weeks ago. He’s been money on this stuff, in part, because he’s negotiated a bunch of these deals himself.
• Thompson crunched the numbers again on Thursday and figured out that the media-rights distribution to Big Ten members caps out at $78.2 million per university in 2029-30.
• Neither Amazon nor Apple made it to the dance floor. Peacock is the only party with an exclusive-streaming package. This surprised some industry insiders who expected Amazon and Apple to be bigger players. Maybe this bodes well for the Pac-12? Or maybe it’s just too soon for the streamers to be factors. We’ll soon know.
• Also absent — ESPN. This was widely reported and not a surprise. For the first time in 40 years the network won’t carry Big Ten football or men’s basketball games. The Big 12 and Pac-12 must have smiled when they heard this.
• The Big Ten’s deal made some accommodations for CBS. Seven games in the first year, then it jumps to 15 games in 2024. The prevailing thought is that the Big Ten probably also made some accommodations for NBC to put Notre Dame games in primetime.
• The UC Regents are still discussing UCLA’s departure to the Big Ten. After seeing the Big Ten’s media rights deal, I’m less optimistic that the system will effectively block the Bruins’ exit. UCLA signed on with the Big Ten as the conference was negotiating this rights package. I’m not a lawyer, but a breach of that contract would most assuredly trigger significant damages. It feels like the face-saving move by the UC Regents might be to try and force UCLA to share some of its new-found loot with Cal.
• USC and UCLA took the money and ran to the Big Ten. Any of the remaining 10 athletic directors and presidents/chancellors in the Pac-12 would have likely done the same thing when offered $70-plus million a year in distributions.
Kliavkoff’s job got a little more difficult today. He not only needs to out-maneuver the Big 12 for a deal with ESPN, his Big Ten worries aren’t going away, either. Kliavkoff knows that the Big Ten would love to someday add Washington, Oregon, Stanford and Cal for a potential “west” division that would ease the travel concerns for USC and UCLA.
Lose two teams, and you pull yourself together and scrape by.
It’s why Kliavkoff has to be at his absolute best in the next few months. He’ll need to hold together his membership — particularly Oregon — while simultaneously negotiating the conference’s media rights deal. He’ll have to beat out the Big 12, hold off the Big Ten, make ESPN happy, find a streaming option, decide if adding San Diego State (or others) makes sense, and land a distribution number that doesn’t leave the door open for further raiding.
Got all that?
There are some other tricky nuances at work, too. For example, Kliavkoff’s conference can’t provide inventory to any potential television partners before 2 p.m. Eastern Time. The Big 12 can. ESPN may value that. So may NBC and Fox/FS1, who still may be hunting for a few early games to fill in their schedules.
The biggest advantage that the Pac-12 has right now is the Pacific Time Zone, which leaves ESPN and the streamers as the most likely options. But it’s becoming evident that the Pac-12 doesn’t have a long line of suitors to create valuable leverage.
Said Bob Thompson: “I still think ESPN will be the Pac-12’s primary carrier, I just think Big 12 will have more bidders.”
Keep an eye on the “loose partnership” that I’ve written about between the ACC and Pac-12. I still think that’s very much on the table and may end up being why ESPN comes
Kliavkoff and Warren were reportedly in Napa Valley, Calif. together on Thursday when the details of the Big Ten’s deal went public. They’re at Rose Bowl meetings with other officials. It must be awkward.
A few weeks ago, I asked Kliavkoff about whether he felt betrayed by Warren. Kliavkoff said, “I’ve been always someone that has given every single person I meet, respect and trust until they give me a reason not to give them respect and trust.
“I’ll just leave it at that.”
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