When it comes to examining the health and viability of the Pacific 12 Conference, there's probably no one better than Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News. Besides living in the same area as the conference is based, Wilner's inside knowledge of the inner workings of the conference provide incredible insight. Today, he took a look at the numbers for the Pac-12 2015 fiscal year and on their own, things look pretty decent! Compared to other conferences ... not so much.
And they're about to get worse.
More on the impending doom in a bit. First, lets take a look at the happy totals! Every school in the conference got just over $25 million last year, a small jump from 2014. That's still behind the Big Ten ($32.4 million) and the SEC ($32.7 million) but ahead of the Big 12 ($23.3 million). Compared to the Tom Hanson days, we're all practically swimming in cash. Those yearly payouts to schools being lower than the SEC and Big Ten is at least somewhat expected because they've got more eyeballs on their sports (again, more on this in a bit).
The Pac-12 Networks took in roughly $116.5 million last year and Wilner estimates their expenses to be in the $100 million range given what our own school reported as their yearly revenue ($1.4 million times 12). Again, that's pittance compared to what everyone should have been getting. A deal with DirecTV would surely help, but I'm not sure it would make up for the $3 million shortfall each school is experiencing. That may not sound like a lot, but to put that in perspective: instead of digging around to find extra money, the athletic department could be making their yearly bond repayment on the FOB with that cash. It's a pretty big deal.
Wilner's post today also outlined something interesting: the pay of those at the top of the conference and those running the Pac-12 Network. Commissioner Larry Scott himself takes home north of $4 million in total compensation while nine other people employed by the conference make over $425,000 per year. Wilner compared that to the SEC where the associate commissioner, who is the second highest paid employee, makes that much. Nine people working for the Pac-12 make more than what two people (I'm assuming Greg Sankey makes a bit more to run the most lucrative league in college athletics) pull down in the SEC.
Does basing your league in the most out of control real estate market in the United States have something to do with that? Surely. But compared to what is seen as the high water mark for college athletics ... that's an awful lot of money to spend.
Now, we get to the really bad part. As Wilner explores, SEC and Big Ten television revenue streams are only going to continue to go up. The Big Ten's new contract sees them getting a quarter billion dollars from Fox for HALF of their football and basketball games. HALF. The SEC is, well, the SEC and their partnership with ESPN on their network, a deal with CBS and all the games you could possibly want in primetime on ESPN will only push their revenue higher into the heavens.
Long story short, the Pac-12 may have made one inadvertent and one deliberate mistake: they may have negotiated their rights deal too early and their insistence on being the sole owner of the Pac-12 Network is killing them on revenue. The conference agreed to a deal with Fox and ESPN back in 2011 but it's not up for another seven years. Unless the league can renegotiate parts of the deal, we're still years away from the schools in this conference raking in even close to what their counterparts in the Big Ten and SEC will.
How much more will each team in those conferences make? $10 million.
And lets not pretend like that short fall will only effect schools like your WSUs, your Oregon States, your Utahs. Nuh-uh. Over the remaining life of the deal, Michigan is set to rake in $80 million more than USC, UCLA, Oregon, Washington, Stanford, all schools that consider themselves the class of the Pac-12; all schools that are now in an all out fight of keeping up with the Harbaughs they surely won't win.
Want me to make it worse? Here's Wilner:
$10 million gap per school X 12 schools X eight years = $960 million shortfall in total conference revenue.
Basically: One billion.
Remember when we all thought this deal was so fantastic? Wasn't it great?