Pac-12 entering new world with its networks
The Pac-12 TV Networks are 86 days from their Aug. 15 launch, when the league's exposure enters a new world.
Seattle Times colleges reporter
We know that the Pac-12 Conference represents great geographic and cultural diversity, and that the interests of its populace are disparate rather than narrow.
By reputation, its following is more easygoing than frenzied. The Cal football fan might blow off an early September game to hike Half Dome at Yosemite, while a UCLA backer might figure San Jose State isn't worth the traffic hassle.
How engaged are the fans of the Pac-12? We're about to get a better idea. The Pac-12 TV Networks are 86 days from their Aug. 15 launch, when the league's exposure enters a new world.
Pretty big deal, this. It figures to be a huge advance for the Olympic sports of the Pac-12 — as a whole, there are none better across the country — but at the same time, the league is guessing you'll be sufficiently baited by the big-ticket items to sign up gladly ith your cable company.
"We're right on track," said Gary Stevenson, president of Pac-12 Enterprises, when I caught up with him the other day. About half the staff of 120 has been hired, and a move into the headquarters building is set for early July in San Francisco's technology-dominated SOMA district.
Stevenson has a chamber-of-commerce view of the whole Pac-12 Networks operation, from his reference to "about 12 Peyton Mannings" in his senior staff's expertise, to an "esprit de corps" in negotiations with cable carriers that haven't yet contracted with the league.
Here's one reason he can be so upbeat: When Larry Scott, the Pac-12 commissioner, finished the 12-year, $3 billion deal with ESPN and Fox a year ago, he was able to set aside a significant amount of games for the network in both football (35) and men's basketball (at least 120).
It was a significant stroke, and in fact is the nucleus of the appeal of the fledging Pac-12 Networks.
In a couple of weeks, the networks will have a "draft" with ESPN and Fox for this fall's football games, and the networks hold some cards.
"In seven of the first 13 weeks of football," Stevenson said, "we have either the first or second pick on the schedule."
Given that the early weeks of the season contain a large amount of cotton-candy opponents, that isn't as compelling as it might sound. Still, if one of those weeks was, say, Sept. 22, the network would do no worse than have a game pitting Cal and USC, or Arizona-Oregon or Utah-Arizona State. It also means that if USC happens to reach the No. 1 spot in the polls — and it won't start very far away — Pac-12 Networks may be showing its game.
But how will all this work?
Sometime in June, the league will reveal the composite TV schedule — which games are going to ESPN, to Fox and to the networks.
Today, the unfinished business is that the Pac-12 has deals with four cable companies representing roughly a robust 40 million subscribers — Comcast, Time-Warner, Cox and Bright House. But that means there's nothing lined up with others such as DirecTV and Dish Network.
"I would characterize the conversations as healthy, ongoing and productive," said Stevenson. No doubt referring to the Big Ten Network's acrimony with Comcast a few years ago, he added, "If you recall a couple of networks that have launched over the years, that wasn't always the case."
When I asked if he could envision a scenario in which the league wouldn't hook up with DirecTV and Dish, he said, "That's a better question for DirecTV and Dish."
As Stephenson tells it — and an industry source backs him — the cost to you won't be immediate. It might show up eventually in a shuffling of various networks between basic and premium tiers. But the cost, something on the order of 90 cents or a dollar per subscriber a month, will reach you eventually.
It's networks, plural. There's a national network, essentially for those who live outside the Pac-12 footprint, and that one is likely to land on a premium cable tier. But there are six other basic-cable networks, one of which will cover the Washington-Washington State area.
So if you live in North Bend (or Seattle, or Spokane), you get that regional network. It provides you 350 live events per year that are shown commonly on the rest of the networks, plus 45 events each from WSU and the UW.
If you're a UW alum living in Phoenix, you get the ASU-Arizona network. You won't get all the Husky sports on your television, but you can hook into them on a laptop or phone via a "TV Everywhere" concept at no extra charge.
What might an autumn weekday look like? There could be a USC-Stanford volleyball match and a Washington-Arizona soccer game, plus feature content. The networks also have the right to replay football games shown on ESPN and Fox.
Let's face it: For many, a little of that could go a long way. If it all stopped there, you could envision a casual fan saying, "Who needs it?"
But those 35 football games and 120 men's basketball games Scott reserved for the networks are a major enticement. Spread the hoops over 14 weeks, for example, and you have maybe nine games a week on the networks. Tough to ignore that.
Stevenson talks nevertheless about a broader purpose — an attempt in programming to capture the particular ethos of each school.
"Some networks deliver eyeballs," he said. "We're really focused on delivering eyeballs and hearts."
The good news is, they'll also deliver De'Anthony Thomas' legs and Matt Barkley's arm.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-12.
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