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What should happen to the Pac-12 Networks?

It’s the biggest question facing new commissioner George Kliavkoff

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 29 Kent State at Arizona State Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Incoming Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff will take over his position on July 1. And once the job becomes official, Kliavkoff will have plenty of issues to deal with. But none of those issues will be bigger than the conference’s upcoming media rights negotiations.

Back in 2011, Larry Scott and the (then) Pac-10 landed a record breaking 12-year, $2.7 billion dollar media rights deal with FOX and ESPN. The contract also allowed the conference to maintain control of secondary rights, including certain football and men’s basketball games, that they would eventually land on the Pac-12 Network.

At the time, the deal was seen as a major victory for the conference. But the long-term contract, combined with the lack of distribution for the Pac-12 Network, allowed other conferences to jump in front of the Pac-12 to break that record.

Now, ten years later, it’s time for the conference to re-visit those deals and figure out the best path forward, and Kliavkoff has a lot to think about. But as the negotiations begin, the most interesting question marks might center on the Pac-12 Network.

As mentioned, the Networks have had trouble finding distribution since they were launched. Without distribution on DirecTV, the networks have far underperformed expectations. Recently, those struggles, combined with the pandemic, have forced the conference to cutback on staff and original programing.

So... Where do we go from here.

By many accounts, the conference will have three options. They can stay the course and maintain full ownership of the network, while renewing their efforts to find broad distribution. They can sell all or part of their ownership to another company like FOX or ESPN. Finally, they can just cut their losses and shut the network down altogether.

For his part, Kliavkoff has said that the network should be a part of the conference’s future, but says there is plenty of work to be done.

“I believe it’s part of the future of our media distribution strategy. Today, the Pac-12 Network has far fewer subscribers than any other comparable network. We have to fix that,” Kliavkoff said. “I think there’s a way to fix that through structuring, and relationships. But we have to get the Pac-12 Network distributed every place, on every platform that our fans want to be able to consume that content.”

What Kliavkoff doesn’t say in that statement is how he plans to expand distribution. The easiest path would be to sell control of the network to a partner, a path plenty of experts say might be the best route forward.

On Monday, Jon Wilner of the Mercury Tribune held a round table discussion with sports media insiders to discuss the various issues facing the Pac-12. Of course, the fate of the network was a major talking point.

“I don’t think you need to close the Pac-12 Network; there’s enough content,” former Fox Sports executive Patrick Crakes told Wilner. “But you need a partner — and a model more like the Big Ten or the SEC. If ESPN owns, or is a partner, then they have an incentive to place high-value games there in order to maximize distribution across all platforms via levering the affiliate distribution sales power of ESPN Brands.”

From the future of the network, to their next first-tier rights deal, Kliavkoff has a lot on his plate over the next few years. How he handles all of those negotiations will have a major impact on the rest of his tenure... And the future of the conference as a whole.


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