With Tom Hansen on the way out and Larry Scott on the way in as Pac 10 commissioner, it's time to look forward. Looking back at the mistakes during Hansen's tenure is a waste of time and would take a lot of time at that. We have new leadership and Scott will have a lot of work to do.
The television contracts for both football and basketball are sorely in need of a massive overhaul and Scott seems like a man well suited for that overhaul. In his work for the WTA Scott worked on the tour's television contract and as a result has relationships with nearly every major network. CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, FSN and ESPN have all had discussions with Scott in the past 15 years. With regards to football, I doubt CBS will make much of a play for the Pac 10 games because they're married to the SEC and with the BCS leaving Fox (as well as their obligations to MLB) Fox isn't much of an option. NBC is committed to Notre Dame and any contract with NBC would not be beneficial to the conference because they would be playing second fiddle to the Irish. That leaves ABC, FSN and ESPN. The conference currently has games on all three channels, but many of the ABC games are regionalized, ESPN has only a few games per year and FSN doesn't have the greatest exposure. Unfortunately, the conference's television contracts do not expire until after the 2011 season so Scott will have to wait before embarking on what could be a turning point in Pac 10 college football.
In basketball, the conference has games broadcast by CBS, ABC, FSN and two games a year on ESPN. Neither Fox nor NBC show any college basketball and it's doubtful that they'd get involved any time soon. The biggest gripe with the conference's TV contract is the lack of games on ESPN. Getting on to TV in basketball is tougher than in football because of the inflexibility with the Thursday-Saturday (and occasional Sunday) schedule. While I have no doubt that the conference would be far more attractive to ESPN if they were willing to scrap their current schedule, the network would have to offer money the conference has never even imagined before to get such a change. Even without a schedule change, the conference can do better. Simple things like making the ABC games no longer regional and getting just one Thursday and one Saturday game on ESPN would go a long ways. The Big XII already has a similar agreement with ESPN. Just like football though, Scott won't get a crack at this contract for some time. The current TV deals don't end after the 2011-2012 season.
Now, Scott should be much more adept at negotiating the TV contracta in both sports and has said in his few statements today that increasing exposure is a priority, but I found this comment to be most interesting.
He said the conference was geographically well situated to create its own network the way the Big Ten has.
“It has universities from contiguous states, mostly land-grant schools that dominate the state,” he said. “That’s a lot of marketing power among alumni and fans when you consider the distribution.”
Now this is the type of forward thinking the conference has lacked in recent years. Creating a Pac 10 channel similar to the Big 10 Network is ambitious, difficult and possibly risky. In other words, it is something absent from the conference's current brain trust. The Big 10 Network was launched on the first day of the 2007 football season and is projected to turn a profit this year. There have been issues with cable company carriage, but that is to be expected. The network is projected to provide revenue unmatched by any other conference and has provided great exposure for smaller sports.
In addition to 35+ football games, 100+ men's basketball games and 55+ women's basketball games, the network shows over 170 games in other sports. The Pac 10 already enjoys more success than any other conference in non-revenue sports and would benefit from being able to expose the quality of play to a greater number of people. Scott's experience with sports that are non-revenue in the college world will be vital to the success of his tenure. The conference already excels on the field, but the exposure and revenue generated from the sports don't match the other programs nationwide. Scott has an inner knowledge about these sports and will best know how to help them grow.
Another issue with the Pac 10 office has been their inability to negotiate better bowl contracts and this will be an area where Scott will have to prove himself. He has proven to be very good with TV networks and sponsors, but he has no experience dealing with the bowl committee club. Those on the bowl committee are essentially members of a fraternity and Scott will have to prove himself to these men and gain their respect. One thing he will have in his corner though is the TV networks. Television revenue is the largest source of revenue for the bowls and if Scott can gain the support of the networks, he will enter negotiations with a lot of leverage.
Sponsorship and branding in another area that Scott can help the conference. Simple things like the conference's logo on team's uniforms, courts or fields can go a long ways to increasing exposure. It's not a difficult thing to do, but the conference doesn't. Bringing in someone like Scott could give the conference a new look things like that. Scott will also help the conference's sponsors by means of increased exposure for the sponsors that should help increase revenue.
With regard to the on field product, Scott will bring a fresh perspective. The sub-par quality of the conference's officiating is a major concern for many of the fans and Scott has shown a willingness with the WTA to address such concerns. Scott was head of the WTA when they added shot-spot replay to assist linemen and often spoke about the importance of having the best referees and linesmen possible. There is no reason to believe he won't bring such an outlook to the Pac 10.
We must keep in mind that the conference commission reports to the university presidents. He is not the end all, be all and has limited power so if the presidents are unwilling to change, Scott cannot make them. What Scott can do though is provide a originality and creativity that the conference hasn't had. It is important for a conference commissioner to be forward thinking and then convince the presidents of his plan. A commissioner must be as much of a salesman as he is a visionary.
The Pac 10 office has been old and stale for years now and Scott brings an energy and thought process the conference is in desperate need of. Scott still must prove himself when he takes over on July 1, but he is as qualified as they come. He may not have experience in collegiate sports (outside of his years playing tennis at Harvard), but Scott has experience in matters similar and in a sport that faced challenges not unlike the Pac 10. What's refreshing is not only the choice of Scott, but the comments from various people in the conference who ackowledge the choice of Scott was to bring new thinking to the conference. It seems as if the entire conference is ready to move forward and it will be led by Scott, who seems nothing but the perfect man for the job.