The Pac-12 will announce a TV deal for football and men's basketball on Wednesday with Fox and ESPN that is rumored to be for $3 billion for 12 years.
It was on last July’s barnstorming by Pac-10 football coaches of New York and ESPN headquarters that Larry Scott, the bold commissioner of the conference, issued a mission statement of sorts:
“Our coming to New York,” he said, “signals this isn’t your grandfather’s conference.”
Never mind grandpap. The Pac-10 is no longer the conference of your brother or sister who happens to be a couple or three years older. Suddenly, the league is as cutting-edge as the trendiest app for your iPad.
Wednesday in Phoenix, where the conference has its annual spring meetings, Scott will announce the league’s media-rights deal to take effect with the 2012-13 academic year. Whatever the adjective is between stunning and staggering, that’s the one.
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“It’s pretty incredible,” said AJ Maestas, a Chicago-based consultant whose company, Navigate Marketing, does media research and measurement. “It’s truly impressive.”
By my count, Maestas used the word “incredible” four times in our conversation, which is about the multiple of what schools in the new Pac-12 will be realizing annually in TV income over what they’re receiving now.
The New York Times reported that Scott will announce a 12-year deal for football and men’s basketball worth $3 billion with Fox and ESPN, an average of $250 million a year, meaning perhaps $21 million annually per school. That would dwarf even the Southeastern Conference’s $205-million-a-year agreements with CBS and ESPN.
“It definitely puts it ahead of everyone,” said Maestas. That includes the Big Ten ($220 million annually), though Maestas adds the caveat that the creation and distribution of a separate Pac-12 network, something Scott intends for the league, puts some uncertainty on the margin.
For perspective, in the 2008-09 academic year (the latest available figures), Washington took in about $8.44 million in shared revenue from the Pac-10 — including TV, bowl payouts and NCAA men’s basketball tournament appearances by the league.
Now it stands to gain $21 million annually from TV alone, which pays for a lot of swimming programs (lopped at UW in 2009) or rebar on the Husky Stadium renovation.
Not a year ago, it was regarded as a positive sign for the Pac-10, which had been paid about $53 million annually for its football and men’s basketball rights, that the ACC had negotiated a $155 million contract with ESPN for the two sports. Now the ACC might be wondering why it’s getting spare change and everybody else large bills.
Then in the fall came the division alignments for the new Pac-12, the announcement that the league would aggregate all broadcast rights of teams under its banner and implement an equal revenue-sharing plan whereby UCLA and USC would be compensated an extra $2 million annually until the league reached the $170 million mark in combined broadcast revenues.
There was considerable skepticism about whether, or when, the Pac-12 could hit that $170-million threshold.
Well, hold that thought.
So what happened to drive all this?
In the big picture, the Pac-12’s timing was exquisite. It was the last available major conference out there with rights available in the immediate future, and its negotiations came as the country was pulling out of a recession.
Meanwhile, in recent years, sports performed well in ratings while other content did not, and the value of cable increased because of a dual potential for both advertising and heightened subscriber fees.
The competitive forces also favored the Pac-12. Fox, the current Pac-10 rights-holder, saw Time-Warner grab the hometown Lakers for the next 20 years, and lost BCS football games through 2014 to ESPN, so it was primed for a fight.
Comcast, looking to buff up its Versus cable property, was heavily involved. And ESPN wasn’t about to sit idly. So the bidding was contentious.
But to really appreciate the deal, you have to go beyond the numbers. Remember, this is the Pac-10, the West Coast, where there’s always been a choice between tailgating, the beach or the backpack.
It’s a place where most schools can’t simply schedule a cream-puff in football and expect fans to show up, or viewers to tune in. There isn’t the fervor of the SEC, where at Auburn when I covered a game five years ago, they issued 2,400 permits for motor homes.
“It’s not the Pac-10’s natural order,” said Maestas. “They’ve outkicked their coverage. When you look at the affinity, the fan passion, the ratings, it’s not the No. 1 conference.
“They really had a lightning-in-a-bottle situation to pull this off. It’s pretty incredible.”
There’s that word again, seemingly not a teaspoon overstated.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org