Bargaining for Pac-10 TV rights should be huge

By John Henderson

The Denver Post

Published: Saturday, June 19 2010 10:32 p.m. MDT

DENVER — Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott spent the past nine days praising everything from Colorado's mascot to Utah's BCS-busting football team in welcoming the schools to the conference.

However, when he signs off on a projected whopper television contract this upcoming school year, the additions of the nation's 16th and 31st biggest TV markets, respectively, won't be the main reasons.

Sports media analysts say the biggest boon to conference expansion is the expansion of TV networks. From ESPN to Comcast to Versus, the TV marketplace is filled with competition, all wanting a piece of the college football audience.

"Colorado and Utah don't add that much," said A.J. Maestas, president of Chicago-based Navigate Marketing, which helps schools assess their market value. "At the end of the day, it's about households, ratings, the total market that you reach. Although they're great markets, because there are some real strong markets in the Pac-10 like Los Angeles, you really don't add to the total average market.

"A little bit, but not a ton."

However, CU athletic director Mike Bohn, who engineered CU's move from the Big 12 two weeks ago, needn't worry.

With the addition of CU and Utah, Navigate projects the Pac-10's next TV deal should be worth about $14.5 million per member school. That's nearly three times the Pac-10's current deal and more than $5 million more than CU received last year from the Big 12.

That is based on other conference deals, fan bases, TV markets and the Navigate staff's knowledge of the industry. Considering the lofty numbers wheeling and dealing conference commissioners have thrown out, that seems low.

Here's why: It doesn't account for the wild bargaining that will likely take place between competing networks. Much has changed in the past five years. The number of sports channels has multiplied. Most professional sports have their own TV network.

There is an ESPNU and an ESPN3. Comcast has merged with NBC-Universal. Conferences and schools offer bigger threats to start their own TV networks, as have the Big Ten and Mountain West, and as the Texas Longhorns plan to do.

AT&T and Verizon also have become cable providers. AT&T now reaches 20 million homes, and Verizon reaches 15 million. That's a lot of money to advertisers, meaning that's a lot of money to conferences offering the games.

That, and starting a football championship game, will likely overcome a Pac-10 fan base that's less consumed than those in the Big 12, Southeastern Conference and Big Ten.

Although Maestas said of previous predictions, "$17 million to $20 million is an extreme stretch for the Big 12 or Pac-10," analysts do agree schools won't be hurting.

"You're going to get a significant increase in rights fees," said John Mansell, a sports media consultant in Great Falls, Va. "But the critical factor to determine how much of an increase you get is how much competition you have for those rights. That's the big plus. Right now, you have lots of competition."

It's clear why Scott swung for the deep seats in trying to lure five schools from the Big 12 South. That would have added the nation's seventh-largest TV market with Dallas-Fort Worth and the 10th-largest with Houston. The Pac-10 could've had eight of the top 19 media markets in the country.

"They would be by far the biggest, most super conference," said Robert Tuchman, founder of TSE Sports & Entertainment, a New York sports marketing company.

Maestas, who has a bachelor's degree from Washington and a master's from Arizona State, has different projections for the Big 12 than what Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe promised the South Division schools he lured back.

Maestas projects the remaining 10 Big 12 schools will receive $13.5 million each, but again, that's before bargaining.

"It'll be similar to the Pac-10 per school," he said. "It's not realistic that Beebe's going to give Texas and Oklahoma and (Texas) A&M $20 million (each) and all the have-nots $14 million to $17 million.

They can distribute that kind of ratio, but the total pie won't be large enough to add up to that."

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