The 12-year agreement reached by ESPN, Fox Sports, and the Pac-12 to distribute the conference’s content across multiple networks and platforms is groundbreaking not only it its price tag. The multibillion-dollar deal will enable several Pac-12 institutions to reinstate sports programs that otherwise would have been cut for funding reasons and parallels the creation of the Pac-12’s own cable network, which will draw on lessons learned from the Big Ten Network before its August 2012 launch.
Unlike the Big Ten Network or Texas University’s Longhorn Network, the Pac-12 Network will be wholly owned by the conference, under the umbrella of Pac-12 Media Enterprises. Announcements on distribution partners will come later, explains Larry Scott, commissioner of the Pac-10 (the Pac-10 will become the Pac-12 in July with the addition of the Universities of Colorado and Utah). In the meantime, prior to the network’s launch, the conference will focus on how its network will be programmed, taking pointers from its colleagues at the Big Ten Network.
“Being a pioneer, I think the Big Ten Network had some unique challenges in terms of getting distribution,” Scott says. “It’s very easy to look in the rearview mirror, but we realize that we need very high-quality football and basketball content on our network to minimize distribution battles. I think, the way we’ve structured things, it’s going to be very distributor-friendly.”
For football and basketball, the Pac-12 Network will have several first- and second-pick selections, ensuring that the quality level of the network’s 36 games will be significantly higher than what the Big Ten Network is able to air, Scott says. An additional 350 live events will come from Olympic sports. He adds that ESPN and Fox have allowed the conference to carve out the rights that the Pac-12 Network will need to retain in order to be successful.
“Some of the must-have, highest-profile games in football and basketball will be on the Pac-12 network,” Scott says. “With the mobility of our fans, best screen available is our philosophy. We’ve been able to pool digital and mobile rights from our schools, so we will not have any fragmentation or conflict.”
The Pac-12 Network will also showcase academic and non-sports programs. Tentatively called the Pac-12 Media Labs, one such feature will enable each school to work with its communications, digital-media, and mass-communications schools to develop new-media tools and technologies to ensure that the network’s programming and operations are cutting edge.
“Hopefully, we’ve taken the best of what the Big Ten Network has done really well, and we’ve been able to glean from them what they would do differently,” Scott says.
Good for Athletics, Good for the University
The conference’s rights agreement with ESPN and Fox will also bring an influx of cash to the universities, helping the athletic departments revitalize sports that had been on the chopping block and allowing those departments to give back to the university as a whole.
“The increased revenue from this agreement comes at a critically important time, a time of unprecedented financial challenges,” Scott explains. “The Pac-12 is known for its commitment to a broad-based package of sports, with 6,000 athletes on 250 teams. This announcement will result in the saving of sports that otherwise might not have [been saved]. Student athletes are benefiting in a very tangible way.”
As the financial headlines on the agreement became public, the University of California had already reinstated its men’s gymnastics program, which was on the verge of elimination, and the University of Colorado had begun looking to add another women’s sports program. In addition, the revenue from this deal will help universities to begin receiving money from their athletic departments, rather than funneling it out to them.
“This announcement has saved sports,” Scott says. “We are also able to reduce the stress that is on the universities to provide resources to our athletic departments. Those resources are needed more than ever by other areas of our universities. I’m thrilled that the increase in revenue comes at such a demanding time.”