As of today, the Pac-12 is in “great shape” in the view of Commissioner Larry Scott.
When it comes to the future, particularly with a constantly evolving media rights and distribution landscape, Scott admits to some anxiety throughout the conference.
“Reading about the success of the SEC Network and the Big Ten’s new TV deal, there’s fear of falling behind in the future,” Scott said during Pac-12 meetings this week in Phoenix. “I certainly feel a lot of pressure from our campuses to do anything we can within reason and consistent with our values to keep generating more money and being aggressive. But from a macro perspective long term, I think we’re in great shape.”
Whether the schools agree is open to debate. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News estimates that the conference distribution gap between the Pac-12 and Big Ten/SEC will be $10 million or more per school through 2023-24, when the Pac-12 will negotiate its next major media rights deal.
The Pac-12 owns the Pac-12 Networks unlike the Big Ten/SEC whose networks are in partnership with ESPN and Fox. That model puts the Pac-12 at a revenue disadvantage for now — schools receive $1.5-2 million annually in Pac-12 Network revenue — but Scott rightly argues that could flip going forward because of the cable cord cutting trend that prompted recent cost cutting at ESPN.
For fiscal year 2016, Arizona State is up 9.8 percent in revenue from media rights, NCAA distributions and Pac-12 distributions to $27.8 million, helping to drive overall revenue to a record $94.6 million.
“One of the rationales for creating the Pac-12 Networks and owning it was a sense there was going to be disruption,” said Scott, who recently received a contract extension through 2022. “Models would be changing, fans would find different ways to get their content. Being in the business ourselves and having some flexibility and being able to be nimble and not just reliant on third parties would be a good place for us to be long term.
“We had the luxury of making that decision on the heels of big deals with ESPN and Fox (starting in 2012-13) that generated a lot of revenue for us and a lot of exposure. We could take a little bit of our content and equity and capital and have a chance to experiment. It has progressed in that direction further, faster than I would have anticipated, but now I’m glad we’re in that space.”
Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, Netflix and Google are potential college media rights buyers in the new marketplace and there might be more in another half decade when all Pac-12 content will be up for bid. Amazon Prime recently signed with the NFL to livestream Thursday night games.
“There will be more different types of players and there’ll still be a very limited number of highly valued sports properties,” Scott said. “Some of these companies we’re talking about are huge by comparison (to ESPN or Fox). I focus on the health of college football, the health of our league as things we can control. If we’re in an environment where there’s a lot of competition for few properties, I think we’ll be in good shape.
“We need enough to be competitive, but our conference has not competed on pure money. We’ve never had as much money as other leagues. We focus on being competitive, making sure our schools have as much resource as possible.”
To that end, every Pac-12 school has completed or is working on a major football capital project since 2010/2011, Scott said.
Pac-12 athletic directors, football and men’s/women’s basketball coaches attended the conference meetings, which began Tuesday and end Friday.
Football coaches are continuing to digest recent rules changes by the NCAA Division Council creating an early signing period for high school seniors in December, allowing for official campus visits in April through June and eliminating two-a-day preseason practices. Also Football Bowl Subdivision schools will be allowed to hire a 10th assistant coach starting in January.
“I’m concerned about pushing the signing period any earlier,” Stanford football coach David Shaw said. “December is palatable. Any earlier, people are kidding themselves to think that’s actually going to work. It’s not in their best interest to sign early. It closes doors. Some of the reasons are incomprehensible to me. Just sign earlier so we don’t have to recruit as long.”
Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez, 2017 American Football Coaches Association president, favors no designated signing day. “If two sides come to an agreement, they sign a letter of intent,” he said with the caveat that a signee can be released if there is a head coaching change. Rodriguez also does not favor spring official visits although those seem to mesh with his idea of signing at any point.
ASU’s Todd Graham is on board with a December signing day and spring visits.
“I’m for making it better for players and decisions that affect the rest of their life,” he said. “I’m not in favor of moving signing day in front of their senior season. It’s too early.”
Shaw said there is a way to have safe two-a-day practices and would like to see a version allowed again in 2018. The new rule is that a team can have a three-hour practice session and a walk-through in the same day but during the walk-thru players cannot wear helmets and pads and contact is prohibited.