It’s been a year of questions for Pac-12 fans up and down the west coast. Since UCLA and USC announced their departures last summer, fans and alumni have been hungry for answers. Will any more teams leave? Will the conference expand? What will the league’s media rights deal look like?
After a long wait, some of those questions might be getting closer to an answer. Last week, we heard news that the league’s expansion announcement could be right around the corner. On Tuesday, we got another solid report about a major potential partner that could change the game for the Conference of Champions.
Apple TV+ has emerged as a major potential landing spot for the Pac-12’s football rights. That’s according to a report from veteran sports media reporter Andrew Marchand of the New York Post. Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff could present the option of a streaming only option to the 10 remaining conference members soon.
The major question coming from that report is whether the conference presidents would be okay with sending all of their game inventory to a streaming service. Moving the games from TV networks to Apple could mean an increased financial gain, but might also mean that a conference already struggling for national visibility would be making a huge gamble. By moving their games from established partners like ESPN and FOX, you would have to wonder whether the national college football fan would follow to a place they don’t expect to see college football traditionally.
If Apple TV is interested and the conference does decide to make the leap, they would be following closely in the footsteps of another sports league. This weekend, the MLS will begin their landmark media rights deal with Apple TV+. The deal, announced last summer, will see the streaming service carry every MLS game, without blackouts, for ten years. The deal is a major monetary win for the soccer league. It raises their per year rights payout from $90 million (from ESPN, Fox and Univision) in 2022 to $250 million per year for the next decade. Of course, that league is also faced with the same questions that the Pac-12 would face. Will the fans follow? Will they pay a monthly fee for another service when they’re used to watching on cable? Will the league have less visibility?
Apple TV has also partnered with Major League Baseball in recent history as well. The streamer launched their Friday Night Baseball package last season, becoming the exclusive home for a pair of weekly MLB games. MLB games are included in the normal monthly subscription fee for Apple TV+, while the MLS is charging $99 for an all inclusive package but will stream a couple of weekly games for free to base subscribers of the service. The MLS is handling the production of all of their games on the service, with Apple TV handling distribution. It’s possible the Pac-12 could do something similar, using the infrastructure they’ve already built with the Pac-12 Network.
The importance of the Pac-12’s upcoming media rights contract, which expires following the upcoming 2023-24 sports seasons, picked up steam following the departures of the LA schools. It reached a fever pitch after the Big 12 conference decided to re-negotiate their rights early, announcing an extension with ESPN and Fox late last year. Since then there have been rumors (both credible and otherwise) that the Pac-12 has been having trouble finding partners to pay them what they were hoping to get for their rights.
The good news for fans is that the Pac-12’s media rights saga might be close to a conclusion. In an interview with Jon Wilner of the Pac-12 Hotline, WSU President Kirk Schulz says the conference needs to get things done sooner rather than later, adding that he feels things are close to being resolved.
“My sense is we need to get it done in March — in mid-March, hopefully,” Schulz told Wilner this week. “The longer it goes, the more noise there will be.”
“Some schools have a little trepidation about what (the media deal) will look like. But I don’t feel at all like anyone is spiraling off into places of despair.”
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