By just about any measure, the last two months have been tough on the Pac-10 Conference. But if the conference were a stock, I'd be buying.
Despite its recent setbacks, I'm convinced the Pac-10's future is bright based solely on a media landscape that should more than double its current take of around $53 million per year and see the launch of a full-fledged channel in the next couple of years.
In fact, the bidding war over the Pac-10's TV rights already is developing, leading some industry executives to predict that the conference's windfall could hit ACC-type numbers. In May, ESPN agreed to pay $1.86 billion over 12 years for the ACC's rights. That deal hasn't been finalized.
The Pac-10's current deals with ESPN and Fox Sports Net end in 2012, and sources say that the two networks already are informally making their interest known via several events that have been set up with Pac-10 coaches in New York, Los Angeles and Bristol, Conn.
"They won't be negotiating," said one media executive who plans to attend one of the events. "But it's definitely part of the courtship process."
My initial reaction is that, assuming there is some truth to these numbers, is that adding two teams to the conference and the subsequent television deal is going to provide a windfall of cash for Pac 10/12 teams. In some prior discussions on Bruins Nation, there were some very legitimate concerns about the merger and even some references to how the ACC expansion has not been a breakthrough success, complete with citations of weak attendance numbers for ACC championship games. These concerns were and still are quite valid and we are a long, long way from knowing what benefits await UCLA as a result of the expansion.
But the story in the SBJ serves as a reminder that television contracts are made in advance and the conference gets paid whether or not the games are well attended or even if the games don't draw big ratings. (This always comes up during the NBA playoffs, when pundits claim the NBA wants a Lakers-Celtics or a Lakers Cavs finals, with the thought being that those match-ups mean higher ratings and more money. But, as NBA Commissioner Stern has noted from time to time, the league already has its TV money, ratings matter to the network, not the league.)
Speaking of networks, the article paints an alphabet soup of possibilities for the eventually broadcaster of Pac 10/12 games. The author says he would be surprised if ESPN didn't get make a strong bid to keep the Pac 10, citing the league's later start times as one advantage of carrying West Coast games.
FOX is also expected to make a bid, though it was not clear if that would be Fox Sports Network, which currently carries regional Pac 10 games or the national FOX network, home of Howie Long and Homer Simpson. To my knowledge, FOX doesn't carry regular season college football, though they do carry bowl games, including the BCS championship games.
Then there is this:
The wild card is Comcast. By the time the Pac-10 begins to accept bids, regulators will have approved of Comcast’s NBC acquisition, which should put Comcast at the table for any future rights negotiation. Having been out of the public eye for the year since the acquisition has been under regulatory review, Comcast almost certainly will covet the conference’s media rights, both for Versus and its family of regional sports networks.
Comcast is indeed a wild card in all this. Like Fox, they regional sports coverage. The question is, will Pac 10/12 games end up on some regional outlet, or will the NBC association put the games on a national network? Currently, NBC has the Notre Dame football games, it's perfectly possible they want to complement the Irish with games from the Pacific and Mountain time zones.
Let me conclude with this final quote (emphasis added):
I argued differently. It’s true that (Larry) Scott fell short of his ultimate goal, but he breathed life into the Pac-10, and that shouldn’t be underestimated.
I see the Pac-10 as a sleeping giant. Over the past decade, it has been one of the most underutilized brands in the sports industry. It has the worst TV deals of any major college conference. Scott is in a no-lose situation; he has nowhere to go but up.
Thanks to some of his bold moves, the conference stands on the cusp of bringing in more media dollars than the Pac-10 has ever seen.
I agree. Under the prior regime the prestige of the conference suffered along with the revenue stream due to its relationship with the regional Fox Sports networks. This holds true not only in football, but in basketball as well. I'd like to think that Scott will do better than just a slight improvement in the "nowhere to go but up" category.