The Pac-12 is looking for a new home for its marquee football event starting in 2020. Las Vegas and Los Angeles are prime options.
The Pac-12 title game and Levi’s Stadium, which never felt like a long-term partnership, are separating.
The conference is looking for a new home for its marquee football event starting in 2020.
If only one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations were opening a state-of-the-art football facility next year, the Pac-12 might have a decent option.
But before we get to the future of the title game, let’s address its past and present in Santa Clara.
A joint statement provided to the Hotline by the conference and the 49ers explains the decision to split up after 2019:
“The Pac-12 Conference and Levi’s Stadium have agreed to opt out of the final year (2020) of the agreement to hold the Pac-12 Championship Game at the venue.
“At the time the partnership was announced both parties agreed to leave open the option for the Conference to explore other new venues that would become available throughout the region.
“Both organizations have deeply enjoyed their partnership throughout the years and look forward to working closely on this year’s Championship Game, while continuing to discuss the future of the game.”
While a return in 2020 hasn’t been ruled out (under an entirely new contract), that’s clearly not the conference’s first choice.
Or its second.
Or maybe even its third.
Upon splitting into divisions in 2011, the Pac-12 used the home-host model for its championship for three years, then moved to Levi’s Stadium in 2014.
The arrangement wasn’t an unqualified success the way the men’s basketball tournament has thrived in Las Vegas, for example.
But commissioner Larry Scott’s decision was the right call, providing a bigger stage for the event and cash to the schools’ bottom line. (The contract with the 49ers is believed to be worth $750,000 to $1 million per school per year.)
For a variety of reasons that include the recent matchups and difficult logistics (Friday at 5 p.m.), it’s fair to say the partnership has run its course.
What’s next for the championship game?
Glad you asked, because the Hotline has given this topic serious consideration.
A return to the home-host model is under consideration, but the conference has its sights on new NFL stadiums in Las Vegas (Raiders) and Los Angeles (Rams/Chargers) as potential homes.
Las Vegas should be the preferred option, for so many reasons.
Fox and ESPN hold the rights in alternating years and have shown a strong preference for slotting the Pac-12 on Friday, to avoid the clutter of championship Saturday with the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC games.
Let’s assume it remains there. Is Friday at 5 p.m. more fan-friendly at Hollywood Park than Santa Clara? Wouldn’t seem to be, and neither option is as alluring as anytime on any day in Las Vegas.
What’s more, Las Vegas is actively seeking partnerships.
In April, then-Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval established the Southern Nevada Sporting Event Committee and tasked the group with attracting major events.
“Additional opportunities to attract major sporting events and associated activities to our state are arising, especially with the addition of the new stadium,” Sandoval said in a statement accompanying the unveiling of the committee.
But moving the championship game to Las Vegas should be the first of two steps. The Pac-12 needs to leverage the event to help generate exposure for its basketball product.
Specifically, it should schedule a men’s basketball doubleheader for the same weekend at T-Mobile Arena and create a hotel or ticket package that incentivizes football fans to attend the basketball games, even if their team isn’t participating.
There are two options for basketball:
1. A traditional nonconference doubleheader.
Pac-12 teams would participate on a rotating basis, or at least be given the option (some might decline the neutral-court game in favor of preserving the home date).
One year, it’s Washington against San Diego State and Arizona against Gonzaga; the next, it’s Oregon against Nevada and Utah against UNLV.
If Power Five programs are interested, all the better.
2. An unconventional nonconference doubleheader.
The 18-game conference schedule precludes a true double round-robin — each team only plays one game against four opponents.
The Pac-12 knows years in advance what the ‘misses’ will be, so why not schedule a doubleheader in Las Vegas with conference teams that only play once in that year’s rotation.
Except the matchups in Las Vegas wouldn’t count as conference games, just like Colorado and Arizona State are meeting in a nonconference game in China in November.
Either way you structure the doubleheader, it’s played on Saturday at T-Mobile and turns the weekend into a major event for the conference, with multiple fan bases involved.
(The Pac-12 could make it a triple-header at T-Mobile, with a women’s game in between the men’s matchups. The women’s tournament, if you didn’t know, is moving to Las Vegas this season.)
Of course, the basketball component makes little sense without major TV exposure, and the Pac-12 Networks don’t have the necessary reach.
But guess what: Despite the glut of football championship games, there are ESPN and Fox windows available.
On championship Saturday in 2018, for example, Pac-12 basketball teams appeared on:
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FOX at 1:30 p.m. (USC vs. Nevada)
ESPN at 2:30 p.m. (Stanford at Kansas)
ESPN2 at 6 p.m. (Oregon at Houston)
ESPNU at 7 p.m. (Cal at St. Mary’s)
In addition, Gonzaga was on FOX at 11 a.m., Michigan was on ESPN at 12:30, Duke was on ESPN2 at 4, and Syracuse was on ESPNU at 5.
There’s no shortage of options for the conference to explore with its major broadcast partners.
Maybe play at 6 and 8:30 p.m., or go midafternoon through 8 p.m. if it’s a triple-header.
Don’t clear the arena between sessions, don’t charge full price for anyone who buys football tickets, and don’t think small.
The Pac-12 needs greater exposure and bigger events for its marquee sports.
Vegas is waiting.