In what has been a long chattered about (and if you’ve been here for a while, three years actually) dalliance with one another, we now know for sure who the primary bidder for the Pac-12 television rights is: Apple.
Multiple reports surfaced this morning following a meeting with the conference presidents and athletic directors that the deal presented was primarily with the tech company.
Sources: The primary deal presented to Pac-12 executives/ADs today was an primarily Apple streaming deal. The deal would have incentivized tiers, which would give it strong upside *if* certain subscriptions numbers are met. w/@CFBHeather— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) August 1, 2023
Thamel would later go on to add on SportsCenter that those incentives may actually push the deal above the range of the Big 12, where the Pac-12 has been trying to get for 11 months now. Multiple reporters also indicated any decision would likely take time as this is the clearest picture of what’s on the table that the conference presidents have seen.
We don’t know a ton yet about the exact structure of this deal (and you should be cautious of anything you see floating around that espouses to know the details) but it’s difficult to see a path forward without a significant linear component that would keep the remaining nine schools together. Colorado AD Rick George specifically called out aligning with Fox and ESPN as part of the reason they left to head home to the Big 12. ESPN and Fox would also need to determine if they’re going to be best served with a deal where they basically buy games from Apple to fill inventory or peel of another school or three from the Pac-12 to fill out the Big 12. For better or worse (very probably worse), media companies are driving this round of realignment and what works for them is likely what comes down the pipe realignment wise.
Still though, there’s a world where this deal does make some sense if it’s structured correctly but as noted yesterday: it almost certainly needs to include expansion immediately. If you believe media industry chatter, the theory gaining more traction by the week is Disney divesting itself of ESPN and the sport behemoth being bought up by a digital partner like Apple. Disney has also discussed partial ownership with their league partners as ESPN’s parent company clearly signals it knows the network’s future isn’t on linear cable. ESPN is hemorrhaging cable subscribers and watching the fees they charge cable and satellite providers for carrying their network vanish, too, which has led to multiple rounds of layoffs at the network just this year.
You’d still be asking the remaining nine schools (plus whoever you add) to make a massive, massive bet on Apple. Major League Soccer is reportedly quite happy with their deal so far but this is still a very big leap to make for the Pac-12. First through the breach? No. But being second doesn’t remove much of the uneasiness.
If you think Apple owns ESPN by the end of 2025, this is probably a no-brainer. If not though ... we’ll see who’s the first to jump into Brett Yormark’s waiting arms.