With landmark TV deal, Pac-12 breaks bank, and routine
The reported 12-year, $3 billion deal features every football and men's basketball game on TV, plus will have football title game on Friday.
Seattle Times colleges reporter
Like a lot of things these days, it's going to take some getting used to. But the Pac-12 Conference, which revealed details Wednesday of a new 12-year, $3 billion TV deal to take effect in 2012-13, is trusting you're up to the task.
It's not the normal stuff of one of the most stable, tradition-bound conferences in the country. But get ready for:
• Four football games apiece on Thursday and Friday nights annually on ESPN.
• Wednesday night ESPN basketball games, and the possibility of spilling onto other nights not now associated with Pac-12 games.
• The newly christened league-championship football game on Friday night, bucking the conventional Saturday slot.
• Every football and men's basketball game will be televised.
• Quality programming on a new Pac-12 network (with, inevitably, some cable-subscriber fee increases associated with it).
"It's a landmark agreement," said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott. "It's a transformative journey we've been on."
No quibble with that assessment, although neither Scott, nor partners ESPN and Fox, would confirm any dollar figures. But other details are themselves startling.
ESPN will now have more than 80 Pac-12 events annually, including 22 football games, some in a new 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Pacific) time slot. It will do 46 men's basketball games a season, reflecting a much heavier presence in both sports on the self-proclaimed worldwide leader.
For the first time, Fox network will carry regular-season, over-the-air college football on Saturday.
Scott unveiled Pac-12 Media Enterprises, an umbrella for his new Pac-12 TV and digital networks. And he took pains to differentiate it from the Big Ten Network, promising that the Pac-12 network will not only be heavy on Olympic and women's sports, but will have 36 football games — about three a week — and about 120 men's basketball games. Scott projected a total of 350 total games per year in all sports would be shown on the network.
"We need very high-quality football content and very high-quality basketball content, and that's what we'll have," said Scott, who says the channel will even feature an educational component showcasing member schools' academic programs.
A day after history's biggest college media-rights contract became public, questions abounded, only some of them with answers.
Q: Any more details on the Pac-12 network?
A: It will be wholly owned by the league, although Scott says it will "make decisions about who its strategic partners will be." Some have speculated Comcast, with heavy West Coast penetration, would be a logical distribution partner.
Q: What's that likely to cost viewers?
A: Hard to say, but one consultant said a dollar per household per month increase might be a goal of the Pac-12. High-quality programming could be offset by a less passionate fan base in the West than some other areas.
By the way, ROOT sports, which is carrying Fox Sports Northwest's old menu, is now owned by DirecTV and won't necessarily pick up part of Fox's content, pending a review of those offerings.
Q: What's in it for fans of women's sports?
A: ESPN properties will air five basketball games, including the Pac-12 tournament final, and Scott says "most" basketball games will be televised on the league network.
Q: Why the football intrusion into Friday nights, traditionally the ground of high schools?
A: Scott says the occasional Thursday-night exposure on ESPN proved to be a "tremendous window," and that the league is "very sensitive and supportive" of the high schools. He indicated the decision was made after consultation with heads of high school activities associations in the Pac-12 states.
John Wildhack, vice president of ESPN, said the Thursday-night exposure with the Pac-10 has "worked incredibly well for us. We think the college-football weekend really begins on Thursday."
Scott, meanwhile, said the creeping of basketball into some Wednesday scheduling doesn't materially change the Thursday-Saturday format. But he didn't rule out some basketball spilling onto other non-traditional days to buff up Pac-12 network content.
In general, Scott has been given carte blanche by the league presidents to increase revenue, and one way is to play at non-traditional times.
Q: What's the real impact of the cash increase — potentially an average of $21 million a year over the contract — for Washington and Washington State?
A: UW athletic director Scott Woodward says it will go to increasing reserve funds from their current $6 million to $7 million to defray debt service of $15 million annually on Husky Stadium. But he doesn't envision reinstating programs like swimming, dropped in 2009.
WSU AD Bill Moos said the deal will provide a "safety cushion" for proposed facilities enhancements, saying the Cougars "have a lot of catching up to do." A design team just toured five Big 12 schools plus LSU to explore renovation possibilities related to Martin Stadium and is to present a plan to the WSU regents this week. "There's an energy in our fan base," Moos said, "and this television news only adds to that."
The $21 million is only an average because the contract escalates, so each school's yield will be several million less in the early years.
Q: Any chance ESPN's hammer could help dislodge the conference basketball tournament from Staples Center and its tepid crowds?
A: It doesn't look promising, although Scott says the league will entertain proposals by other cities.
"We've got a production center right across the street from Staples Center," said Fox president Randy Freer. "Our people out there, they love it."
Wildhack spoke similarly, saying, "We think L.A. is a great place to hold the tournament. Ultimately, it's the conference's decision where to put it. Trying to build the tournament (in L.A.) is probably in everybody's best interest."
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
|Pac-12 games on TV|
|The approximate number of games ESPN and the new Pac-12 network will carry each year.|
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
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