Challenges Pac-12 Football Faces with Its Current TV Deal

Kyle KensingContributor IMarch 27, 2017

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott talks to the media during the NCAA college football Pac-12 Media Day on Friday, July 26, 2013, in Culver City, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Pac-12 followers frustrated with the conference's place in TV land, take heed: Commissioner Larry Scott feels your anguish, Jon Wilner of The San Jose Mercury News reports. But with the 12-year contract still in its early phases, the Pac-12 will continue to feel some growing pains in the effort to expand its national appeal.

The restructured television deal is both blessing and curse. The $3 billion is evenly distributed among all 12 members and the entire conference has benefited, evident in the "construction boom" documented in a November New York Times report.

Indeed, there's more money flowing into the universities, and the conference has more exposure than in the days of regional Fox Sports Net broadcasts and syndication provided through Raycom.

Scott touted the positives during his state of the conference address before December's Pac-12 Championship game: 

We've had more coverage of Pac-12 football on television and online than ever before [for the] second year in a row...Our partners at ESPN and Fox made a big commitment to the Pac-12...Several of our games for ESPN and Fox broke ratings records.

But there are points of contention, and there are two Wilner's report addresses: first is the frequency of late kickoffs, typically 10 p.m. ET.

The Pac-12 is a natural fit for this broadcast slot given the conference is in the Pacific Time Zone, save for Colorado and Utah, which are in the Mountain Time Zone. But the late kickoff complaint is less about local viewers, for which an 11 p.m. wrap-up is not outrageous. Rather, a 2 a.m. last call for media and fans based in the East certainly limits the Pac-12's reach, the results of which can be seen at season's end.

For example, when the Pac-12 was snubbed across the board of this past season's Heisman race, discussion of regional bias was unavoidable. But regional bias can more accurately be called exposure bias as it pertains to the Pac-12.

The second issue addressed in Wilner's report is exclusivity window for broadcast television games, which negatively impacts the Pac-12 Networks.

Growing the Pac-12 brand means growing the Pac-12 Networks' brand, which aired 35 games in 2013, including Utah's upset of Stanford. 

Expanding the Pac-12 Networks' reach has been a challenge in and of itself, largely due to an 18-month impasse with DirecTV. And the Pac-12 Network isn't the only burgeoning network staked to Pac-12 football. 

Fox Sports 1, which launched just weeks before the kickoff of the 2013 season, was a hub for the Pac-12. Though Neilsen U.S. reported distribution of Fox Sports 1 to 75 percent of homes, it was still a significantly smaller audience than ESPN (distributed to 85 percent of homes) and the broadcast Fox Network.

Challenges with the conference's television contracts affect other sports' scheduling, including its other major-revenue sport, men's basketball. Pac-12 basketball long adhered to a Thursday-Saturday schedule on which one could bank. The occasional Sunday game was in the mix, but for the better part of three decades, the conference slate was uniform.

Arizona head coach Sean Miller detailed the challenges to The Arizona Republic while his team visited the Bay Area two weeks ago.

These trips are long, so there’s only so much you can do. It’s a different deal. It’s almost like we’re leaving for an NCAA Tournament first and second round, or a conference tournament and we’re doing it five or six times.

To accommodate Fox and ESPN, the conference is playing several Wednesday-Saturday or Thursday-Sunday dates. It's essentially basketball's version of the 10 p.m. ET football kickoff—there's airtime to be filled, and something has to fill it.


Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.