One of the most important things that will happen at any point this decade for UCLA and the entire Pac-12 is the negotiation of the new TV deal. With millions upon millions at stake at a time when athletic departments are facing shrinking budgets and cutting sports, it is something that will affect the future of every team in the conference. Last Thursday the conference's exclusive negotiating period with Fox ended and now everyone is in on the bidding.
If anyone has been on top of the Pac-12's new TV deal, it is Jon Wilner. Nearly every new piece of news about the TV deal that the conference is currently negotiating comes from him and yesterday he brought us some more details about the ongoing negotiations. Some of the highlights include:
- The conference is looking at a HUGE payday. The Pac-12 is the only conference not locked into a long-term deal and while the economy is down, sports media is doing very well. Networks are looking for added live sports to telecast and the Pac-12 will be their only option for a while so there is a ton of interest. One person estimated $220 million per year, which would be more than the SEC's $205 million per year in their new mega-deal.
- Most think that Fox is still the favorite to land the deal. They are looking for more live programming not just for their Fox Sports channels, but FX as well. They also just lost the Lakers to Time Warner and do not want to lose UCLA and USC as well. Comcast/NBC is another real possibility and ESPN is trailing, but they might try to bid with Turner.
- A Pac-12 Network is basically a done deal. The conference will partner with whoever it signs a TV deal with to form the network. It will allow the league to feature its non-revenue sports and any games in football or basketball not shown with its network partner will be on the Pac-10 Network. It will lose money early on, but they expect it to make money later on as well as increase exposure.
- The conference is going to focus on increasing their overall profile and exposure, while making use of all new technologies. This includes a plan to make the conference more mobile-friendly with the ability to watch games on a cell phone.
- The Thursday/Saturday basketball schedule will be a thing of the past. Only having two games limited the conference's ability to get games on TV and beyond the financial advantages of offering networks multiple nights of basketball games, it really hurt the conference visibility. Games will be played all days of the week beginning in 2012, but the conference will explore using chartered planes to cut down on missed class time.
The biggest piece of news from this isn't really new news, but the confirmation that Fox is still the favorite and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Fox has done an awful job with the Pac-10 in past years, but they are capable of doing exceptional work. The question is whether a deal with Fox will come with a commitment to doing their best work for the conference.Fox is a 49% owner of the Big 10 Network and operate everything there and if anyone has watched it, they know that the production is top notch. Everything is in spectacular HD, they have Gus Johnson calling games and their programs on the teams, players, moments and history of the conference are great. Fox can be creative, unique and outstanding. They haven't done that for the Pac-10, but at least we know they are capable of it so would a new deal with Fox mean the conference gets Fox's best? If so, the production value will be outstanding.
The one thing that I have not seen addressed is whether the Fox network channel will be involved at all. Fox wants to put sports programming on FX and that would provide extra exposure for the conference, but Fox Sports, a Pac-10 Network and FX alone is not enough exposure for the conference. A deal with Fox has to include the Fox network or the opportunity to put some games on ESPN, ABC, CBS or NBC.
Speaking of NBC, with Comcast's purchase of them now final, they too are an interesting option. A weekly doubleheader on NBC with a Pac-12 game and Notre Dame would be great exposure. The network also has regional sports channel that they are expanding and Versus. Versus has been a joke for a while now, but they've made great strides since Comcast bought them and it's clearly become a priority to build it so it's not the major negative it once was. The Pac-12 could end up the centerpiece of a much bigger and much better Versus. Intriguing.
As for getting rid of the Thursday/Saturday basketball schedule, I think it's a necessary move. There are some positives to the schedule, but there are more positives to playing all days of the week. Besides the fact that more nights to play games and more games on TV means more money, it also means more visibility for the conference. Already having to fight the time difference issue, the Pac-12 can't be inflexible with regards to days of games. Wilner quotes Arizona head coach Sean Miller as being in favor of the schedule change and I know several more than favor it as well so it is popular with the teams.
As for Larry Scott, everything I'm hearing about the new TV deal makes me like Scott more and more. I'm still not sure if the expansion was worth it (I'm not sure there will ever be a way to definitively prove that it was or wasn't), but a completely new attitude was what the conference needed and he's brought it. Scott is definitely trying things that the Pac-10 wasn't even considering previously and it appears as if doing things because that's the way it was always done is not a valid reason anymore with the conference. That was essential to whoever the new commissioner was.
Now, the TV deal is not yet done so we won't know for sure how this turns out, but this is what Scott was brought in for and this will define the job he is doing. If he can get the $220 million per year that some have estimated he will have done a marvelous job. Hopefully any deal brings in that type of money as well and the visibility and better production that the conference needs as well.