The Pac-12 struggles to secure a new media rights deal
The GIST: The Pac-12 is going through it. The Power Five conference has been looking for a new media rights deal for over a year now and in the meantime, schools are dropping out of its ranks like flies. While the future of the Pac-12 and its TV deal hangs in the balance, women’s teams may be left wondering just where the heck they fit in.
The media rights deal: Negotiations for the Pac-12 media rights began last summer, as its current deal with ESPN and Fox expired after the 2022-23 school year. Over a year later, fans of the conference have dwindling faith. On Tuesday, a potential deal was presented with a decision expected within 48 hours, but it was reported yesterday that the school presidents would meet again today. Sigh.
- The most promising deal is a short-term contract with Apple TV+ that could allow the conference to better compete with the other Power Five conferences. The terms of the potential deal are still unknown, but the schools are reportedly demanding $300M per year — up from the $250M annually the Pac-12 received from ESPN and Fox.
- Apple is new to the sports streaming world, but it's been off to a hot start. The company signed a deal with MLS (and Lionel Messi) earlier this year and is already seeing results, while also hosting Friday Night Baseball for MLB.
- Plus, the streamer offers diverse content that attracts more than just sports fans, something ESPN and Fox Sports can’t offer. Sign up for Ted Lasso, stay for Pac-12 After Dark? Yes, please!
The exits: Last summer, USC and UCLA announced they’d be breaking up with the Pac-12 for the Big Ten in 2024. And just last week, Colorado announced it would also be leaving for the Big Ten. In response, the Pac-12 released a statement saying it was focused on the media deal and would address conference alignment issues after that.
- But yesterday, with a media agreement still not reached, it was reported the Big Ten is exploring adding Washington and Oregon permission to the conference, and the Arizona Board of Regents called a last-minute meeting last night to discuss University of Arizona’s talks with the Big 12. Ruh roh.
The why: The financial future of the Pac-12 was already shaky — it had the second-lowest revenue among Power Five conferences in 2022 ($580.9M), but the lowest approximate payout per school ($37M each).
- On the flip side, the Big Ten led all conferences in 2022 revenue ($845.6M) and boasted a $58.8M payout per school. More money and a guaranteed media rights deal makes a move to the conference seem like a no-brainer.
Lingering questions: But what does conference realignment and a new media rights deal mean for women’s sports at these universities? Realignment could diminish the Pac-12’s dominance in women’s basketball, for example, while teams that leave the conference could face more expensive and further travel.
- And while sports broadcasting veterans ESPN and Fox brought a certain level of credibility, opportunity, and exposure for women’s teams, Apple is new to sports streaming and lacks broadcast channels devoted to college sports, like ESPNU.
- How effective will the streamer be when it comes to showing and supporting women’s sports in the Pac-12? Will an Apple TV+ deal help or hinder women student-athletes in securing NIL deals? There are a lot of questions swirling and, after more than a year, the conference needs to start giving its fans some answers. And fast.