Given a chance to let ESPN take care of the distribution of the Pac-12 Network alongside the ESPN family of networks that includes the SEC Network and will soon include the ACC Network, the Pac-12 opted to pass. According to a report from Sports Business Daily reporters John Ourand and Michael Smith, ESPN approached the Pac-12 about working out a deal that would extend the media rights package deal between ESPN and the Pac-12 for the better part of the next two decades, but the Pac-12 rejected the offer in hopes of securing a more rewarding media rights deal in the next round of rights negotiations.
The Pac-12 has constantly struggled with getting the Pac-12 Network in as many homes as they likely hoped when the network launched in 2012. Unlike other conference-branded networks, the Pac-12 has retained total ownership of the network, which seemed like a good idea at one point in time. But considering the massive windfall of cash that schools from the Big Ten and SEC get with their conference-branded networks as partnerships with FOX Sports (Big Ten Network) and ESPN (SEC Network) while the Pac-12 continues to have issues getting some carriers to get on board with the Pac-12 Network, perhaps total ownership and decision-making with regard to operating and distribution should be on the table for discussion for the Pac-12.
The Pac-12’s current media rights agreement with ESPN and FOX will expire in 2024, and a consultant has already been hired to help out with the negotiations to come. What exactly the media landscape will look like at that point remains difficult to predict. As more and more consumers are choosing to cut the cord, the oversaturation of streaming platforms leaves plenty of possibilities for what the future holds, including a brand new announcement from Apple today about their future Apple TV plans. The Pac-12 holding off and taking their shot in the next few years appears to be a gamble, but it may work out in their favor anyway. Even though the Pac-12 backed away from secure financial and distribution stability that would surely come with the helping hands of ESPN, the media rights numbers continue to increase every year.
The Pac-12 is still going to make out a pretty rewarding deal, but it will be compared against what the schools in other conferences receive from their various media rights deals. Some within the Pac-12 have grumbled about the payout the Pac-12 Network has yielded thus far, so this is a pretty interesting decision by the conference to not take the ESPN money now and run. This is the same conference that is hoping to get investors to shell out some cash to be a part of the conference as well.
The biggest question may be whether or not Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott will be around to see the new media rights deal be settled.
The Big Ten is printing money with the Big Ten Network. The SEC Network celebrated a wildly successful first year on the air. Meanwhile, the Pac-12 Network continues to fight an uphill battle compared to its power conference brethren. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has continued to promote the Pac-12 Networks, but accessibility issues continue to plague around Pac-12 states and fans are right to be frustrated. Could this all be solved before the start of the new college football season? If not, it will not be for a lack of trying.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports the Pac-12 is working hard on finalizing a deal with DirecTV by September 3 to make the Pac-12 Networks available in more homes of Pac-12 fans. The continued standoff between the Pac-12 and DirecTV has been an infuriating one for many fans, but AT&T’s recent purchase of the satellite provider has provided a glimmer of hope to those unable to watch any number of football games in recent falls. AT&T recently purchased DirecTV, with over 4 million customers residing in Pac-12 states.
Not having the Pac-12 Networks available to so many fans in Pac-12 states has even become a bit of a political issue, with a trio of United States senators using their weight to call for an agreement between the two sides, the Pac-12 and AT&T.
“Beyond the burden and frustration placed on our fans in our states who are not able to watch their favorite teams compete, we are also increasingly concerned about the potential long-term damage to our states’ flagship universities, which count on Pac-12 Networks to promote the university, its student athletes and its athletic programs,” a letter drafted by the three senators reads, per The Salt Lake Tribune.
Hang in there, suffering Pac-12 fans. Your day will soon come, hopefully.
The Pac-12 Network is not a doomed experiment in sports television and media just yet, but it may be fair to suggest it is not working out quite as well as it could have after three years on the air. It can still be saved and prosper, and it is far from being put on life support the way the short-lived Mountain West Conference network was, but it needs help if the Pac-12 is going to cash in on the lucrative media revenue the Big Ten and SEC receive through their respective networks.
“We are developing the way we hoped, but we still have a way to go to reach the full potential of our networks,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said to The Salt Lake Tribune. “We certainly realized it takes time to build, and we went in with eyes wide open.”
The San Jose Mercury Times reports the Pac-12 Network is received by 11 million homes. A similar report by FOX Sports estimated the subscriber total at 12.3 million. Whichever report you choose to go with, it is a far cry from the 60 million homes the network is technically available in. In contrast, the Big Ten Network and SEC Network are each over the 60 million subscriber total.
The Pac-12 Network launched on August 15, 2012 with seven smaller networks throughout the Pac-12’s regional footprint. It was an innovative idea at the time, offering regionalized content to cater to the specific fanbases within those various regions. The Pac-12 launched the network without the aid and support of a broadcasting partner. The Pac-12 wanted total control of the network, which was admirable. But the support the Big Ten received from FOX Sports for the revolutionary and innovative Big Ten Network and the tremendous amount of help the SEC Network has received through ESPN can be used as arguments saying the Pac-12 swung and missed on this one. The Pac-12 lags well behind both conference sports networks in subscriber totals, and thus revenue.
There is a benefit to the Pac-12 owning every portion of the Pac-12 Networks. As total owners of the networks, it keeps every penny the networks earn, which in theory leads to better revenue shares. But the network continues to struggle to get in enough homes to have that 100 percent ownership stake lead to max revenue shares in the conference. The network is still not carried by DirecTV, and some subscribers of the network do not receive the network in high-definition (myself included). Those are problems that have plagued the conference for nearly three years now.
At a time when the Pac-12 is on the rise on the football field, the pressure is continuing to mount to have Scott put these issues to rest, get the network available in more homes and start making it the cash cow it was envisioned to be. It’s not too late, and it’s not too late to seek help from an established media partner either.