Last week, the topic of the Pac-12’s suspect officiating was covered. Part two will focus on the Pac-12’s dealings with media.
The Pac-12 has long been building hype for their network. While they certainly deserve credit for putting together a network worth $3 billion over 12 years, there are problems with implementation.
Back in the old Pac-10, schools like USC and UCLA took a proportionately larger share of the television revenue. Of the approximate $45 million Pac-10 television revenue in 2008, USC took home almost $6.5 million and UCLA got almost $5 million; much more than equal shares of $4.5 million. And why not? Both reside in the second largest media market in the nation and have large followings. According to Nielsen’s State of the Media: 2012 Year in Sports, the regular season game between USC and Notre Dame drew over 16 million viewers. No other regular season that was not a conference championship game came close. The Rose Bowl and SEC Championship games barely topped that, drawing 17 million and 16.2 million viewers respectively. The Fiesta Bowl between Oregon and Kansas State came up dramatically short, with only 12.3 million viewers.
In late October 2010, Navigate Marketing, a firm in Chicago that researches market and sponsorship values, projected, based on an estimated $172 million revenue, that USC would receive $20 million, UCLA $16 million, and Stanford at the bottom with $12 million. If the conference decided to share revenue each school would receive approximately $14 million. The final product turned out to be much different.
The projections quickly went out the window. The Pac-12 made a deal with ESPN and Fox for $3 billion dollars, coming out to $250 million annually. Ultimately, revenue sharing was put into place, splitting the yearly total into 12 parts of nearly $21 million each. This model denies fairness to the schools that bring in the most revenue and viewers through their brands. Even the president of Navigate Marketing, AJ Maestas, disagreed with this model, saying, “If my client was USC, I would have asked for more money…The conference could not possibly get this kind of deal without USC as part of it. If you, as a school, are trying to maximize your revenue, UCLA and USC left a lot of money on the table with flat revenue sharing.” Why should the schools that have more earning power subsidize schools that cannot bring in the nearly as much money?
Furthermore, this ignores the difference in operating costs in large cities like Los Angeles. The cost of operating in cities like Pullman or Salt Lake City is much lower than cities like Los Angeles. Their schools’ athletic budgets are already many times smaller without the difference in cost of living. Meanwhile, they are given the same amount of money from the Pac-12.
The revenue sharing creates further parity in the Pac-12. Combined with nine conference games, the Pac-12 conference cannibalizes itself, affecting conference prestige and high tier postseason eligibility. Most conferences have only eight conference games.
The scheduling in the Pac-12 also has become a bigger issue. The introduction of Thursday and Friday night games has further damaged many aspects of USC. Outrage was so strong that USC had to release a statement regarding the issue. In the message, the USC Athletic Department said that “As part of the Pac-12, the league’s new scheduling process requires all schools to host Thursday or Friday night games twice every three years. It is our goal to create a unique game-day experience on these evenings and hopefully you, the fans, will enjoy it as well.” The Pac-12 has forced weekday games on USC— USC that sits in the heart of downtown Los Angeles— Los Angeles, a city infamous for never-ending traffic. On a typical game day, fans arrive hours earlier to tailgate and enjoy the campus atmosphere. Since there are weekday games, fans must go to work or school and then fight through rush hour traffic to reach the Coliseum. But wait— tailgating and parking on campus will not be allowed. The Pac-12 has created a logistical nightmare by forcing schools like USC to adhere to the Thursday and Friday night home games.
These are not just problems for USC though. More generally, these types of games interrupt the school week for everyone: students, student-athletes, and professors. Being academic institutions, Pac-12 schools do not typically cancel Thursday and Friday classes for nights with games. Professors are forced to miss the game, and student-athletes are forced to miss class. Regular students are given a tough choice: ditch class or miss the game— either scenario meaning they lose out on what they paid for.
On Thursdays, the games would compete with NFL Thursday Night Football. On Fridays, they would compete with high school games. In both cases, the change could affect recruiting visits.
The scheduling issues extend beyond the nine conference games and week night games. The added Pac-12 Championship game causes further problems for USC. According to Pat Haden, “The new Pac-12 scheduling format, which precludes scheduling a game the first weekend of December because of the Pac-12 Championship Game, has presented issues as we move forward with our football scheduling. We want to have as many home games as possible each year for our fans and we also want to have a bye week every season, so some of our non-conference scheduling options now are more limited. But, as we continue to fill out our future schedules, we believe we will have a challenging mix of nonconference opponents in the upcoming years.” Less nonconference options would hurt high tier postseason eligibility, based on strength of schedule. This becomes increasingly important as college football moves away from the BCS era and towards the playoffs.
Lastly, what Larry Scott has done about the DirecTV situation shows his lacking leadership as the Pac-12 commissioner. When negotiations failed with DirecTV, Larry Scott decided to tell people to drop their DirecTV service for another provider for the sake of receiving the Pac-12 Networks broadcast. He has somehow gotten the member schools to push the same message.
The growth of the Pac-12 and start of the new network are undoubtedly exciting accomplishments, but what about the leadership and direction? Larry Scott and the Pac-12 leadership seem to have missed the mark on a couple of issues. Are they too disconnected at the upper echelons of authority? Whatever the case, USC has no real alternatives as of now. As Pat Haden has said, “I can’t wave a wand for us to be independent.”
This concludes the two part series on the Pac-12. Part one can be read here.