The number was there for all to see, displayed in red type on a large screen for the University of California Board of Regents as they gathered Wednesday to discuss UCLA’s entry into the Big Ten:

$9.8 million.

According to the UC Office of the President, $9.8 million was the projected hit to the Pac-12’s annual media rights revenue resulting from USC’s accompanying departure in summer 2024.

It presumed USC accounted for 30% of the conference’s total valuation and indicated the revenue shares declined from $41.67 million per school per year with the Trojans to $31.82 million per share without them.

But the figure cited was an estimate.

The Hotline has attempted to gain deeper insight into the valuation equation. We reached out to sources in sports media, granted them anonymity and asked for assessments of the Pac-12’s situation.

None of the analysts is employed by Sports Media Advisors or Endeavor, which are representing the Pac-12 and Big 12, respectively.

In addition, the Hotline dived into TV ratings data published by the website SportsMediaWatch. Most figures cited are from SMW; a few were provided by sources.

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Section I: USC’s worth

Assigning a percentage to USC’s share of conference revenue is complicated by the fact that media valuation takes two forms: brand value and market value.

During the College Football Playoff era, which began in 2014, the Pac-12 averaged 1.5 million viewers across Fox and ESPN/ABC broadcasts.

Remove USC, and average viewership drops to 1.4 million — a decline of 7%.

But there is a brand value attached to USC football that’s more difficult to measure. Does that brand value push USC’s total worth to 30%?

Not according to our sources, who point to 12 years of underperformance by the Trojans and the increase in brand value among three schools (Oregon, Washington and Stanford) that filled the void.

Section II: The L.A. market

The same audience figures that show a 7% decline in games that don’t involve USC carry a twist: Remove UCLA, and the average Pac-12 viewership actually goes up.

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With their markets and success, Oregon, Washington and Stanford have done more to drive ratings the past decade than have the Bruins.

“Nobody knows media and markets better than the NFL,” Source B said. “And if you’re the NFL looking at a map, you absolutely aren’t going to forget about Seattle and San Francisco.”

The Ducks and Huskies are comparable to USC and, in fact, carry more media value than any schools in the reformatted Big 12 based on a combination of metrics that include average and total viewership across Fox and ESPN networks.

“I don’t put as much stock in the whole notion of ‘losing or keeping L.A.’ as others do, because in reality [the Pac-12] isn’t losing L.A.,” Source A said.

So if we simplify the numbers and use $100 million as a hypothetical valuation figure for a Pac-12 that includes USC and UCLA, what’s a reasonable expectation for the conference without both schools?

“I’d say $70 million to $75 million is about right,” Source C said, “because you have to weigh losing both market and brand value.”

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Section III: If UCLA reverses course?

The most significant development at the UC Regents’ meeting was a clear indication from general counsel Charlie Robinson that the board has the authority to block UCLA’s move to the Big Ten.

That seems unlikely given potential financial ramifications and the dangerous precedent it would set for future UC campus business. But clearly, the likelihood of a reversal by UCLA is not zero.

For that reason, the Hotline believes it worthwhile to examine a valuation scenario in which the Bruins remain in the conference for the next media-rights cycle, beginning in summer 2024.

Would their presence offset the market impact of USC’s departure?

In gauging lost value with only USC departing, multiple analysts pegged the number at approximately 15%.

Navigate, a sports and entertainment market research company, pegged the Pac-12’s future broadcast rights in the $500 million range (annually) in a valuation estimate made before the L.A. schools’ departure.

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That would have translated to $41.67 million per campus per year — the figure cited in the UC Regents presentation.

Trim the total amount by 15%, then divide by 11, and we’re left with $38.63 million per school.

By that estimate, USC’s loss would equate to a drop of $3.04 million per school, not $9.8 million.

Section IV: Target valuation

How much should Pac-12 schools expect to collect annually without both Los Angeles schools?

A reduction of 30% in average value would result in $350 million annually for the remaining 10 members, based on Navigate’s pre-departure estimate of $500 million.

However, the conference could have a competition problem. ESPN appears likely to bid on the media rights, but without a second network to drive up the price, the Pac-12 could be forced to accept less than $350 million.

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“If they could get to $325 million with [an escalator] of 5%, that’s pretty good,” Source A said.

How might the Pac-12 push its average valuation into the mid-$300 millions?

One way: Offering ESPN (or other networks) a premium game on Friday and Saturday nights — or 26 broadcast windows in prime time on the West Coast with no Power Five competition.

“Those games have a captive audience,” Source A said.

Section V: Big 12 comparisons

The national media has portrayed the Pac-12 and Big 12 as engaging in a death struggle, with some justification.

But an objective valuation assessment leads to one conclusion:

Financially and competitively, the Pac-12 and Big 12 are more alike than different — and neither is on the same tier as the Big Ten or SEC:

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  • With Oregon and Washington, the Pac-12 has the most valuable football properties. The Big 12 has more stability, if only because it now lacks the high-end chess pieces that might be of interest to the Big Ten or SEC.
  • The Pac-12 is the only conference that can regularly fill the valuable fourth broadcast window (7:30 p.m. Pacific).
  • The Big 12 benefits from having been plundered first: With Texas and Oklahoma leaving last summer, the conference was able to scoop up the top available schools: BYU, Houston, Cincinnati and UCF. The Pac-12 has few quality options.

What do the numbers say?

In addition to better brands (Washington and Oregon), the Pac-12 has better markets:

The 10 remaining schools account for six of the nation’s top 30 media markets, according to 2021 Nielsen DMA data. The Big 12 has four.

The Pac-12 also drives ratings more effectively than the Big 12.

Over the past five full seasons, the Pac-12 games had 17 games without USC and UCLA involved that generated a 2.0 rating (3.5 million viewers) or better. The Big 12 without Texas and Oklahoma had nine.

Annual valuations in the $325 million to $350 million range seem reasonable for both leagues.

And because of differences in membership, the new Big 12 would need a significantly higher valuation figure to distribute more revenue to each campus.

If the Pac-12 received $300 million annually, each of the 10 schools would collect $30 million (excluding whatever is spent on conference operations).

If the Big 12 received $350 million annually, each of the 12 schools would take home $29.2 million.