Posted by Matt Norlander
Plenty of West Coast bias to be excited about today, if you're into that sort of thing. I know it's somewhat of a niche audience, but follow me here. This is fairly big news, after all.
It's big news because we're getting more and more information on what the Pac-12/ESPN/FOX television deal all means. This could be the most expensive television deal in the history of sports, estimated to be valued at nearly $3 billion, though there hasn't been any official confirmation on what the parties agreed to. Most of that value is driven by football, but men's basketball is a significant part of this endeavor as well.
I sat in on the media conference call for 70 minutes this afternoon, listening to a bunch of information that, frankly, wasn't that juicy. It was Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott thanking his business partners at ESPN and FOX for their collaborations and creativity on a "shared vision." Reporters fired off questions, some specific, some philosophical on what this deal says about the state of the economy, the public's desire for sports, etc.
Although everything's official and the Pac-12 is going to have its own network beginning in August of 2012, a lot of logistics are still being figured out. In cement: The contract with FOX and ESPN runs through 2024-25. (So, so far away. I hope.)
The basics, from the basketball side: you're going to get to see a lot more Pac-12 basketball, beginning 17 months from now. (Let's hope the conference doesn't completely stink by then right? Kidding! Kind of.) This is more access to major-conference basketball on the West Coast. It's going to enhance the collective knowledge of fans and writers, who often don't watch nearly as much left coast ball as they'd like you to believe. Every football and men’s hoops game is going to be available through ESPN/ABC Sports, FOX and the Pac-12 Network. Specifically, ESPN will have the rights to 46 men's basketball games per year. This is a huge uptick in exposure, as the Fox Sports Net national-yet-regional model wasn't sufficient -- though it will still be used to broadcast games. Perhaps ESPN's involvement will force FOX's hand to up its production, promotion and presentation of Pac-12 hoops?
The schedule for Pac-12 basketball will be changing as well, according to Scott. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays are now expected to be the nights to catch the conference's hardwood action. The round-robin schedule, unfortunately, is getting ditched with the move from 10 to 12 teams. It seems the Thursday/Saturday rotation (which I also love) is going the way of the Dodo. All this in an effort to expand Pac-12 basketball, of course.
It's going to be a bit weird seeing UCLA-USC on a Wednesday night on ESPN, right?
More info: FOX and ESPN will both broadcast games (ESPN on its primary, ESPN2 and ESPNU channels), alternating years when they get the rights to the Pac-12 tournament. The coolest aspect to this: There's going to be a draft for the networks choosing their games. Yes, ESPN and FOX will take turns picking what they anticipate to be the best games weeks down the road. Washington State-Oregon State is no doubt a last-round pick. But think of the potential for busts! Will flex scheduling ever factor in? You know certain games that look good in September won't be as appealing by the start of February.
Additionally, the Pac-12 will also have rights to games, and first choice, at that. Seem confusing? That's because there's still a lot to be decided. Today was about making things official and starting a framework for what the Pac-12 Network aims to be. Scott told me their isn't plans to have fans follow along with the networks choosing games, but it will be done shortly after the Pac-12 releases its canonical schedule each summer.
Scott also said we should expect the Pac-12 to have a tremendous presence digitally; there could be any number of games -- not just men's hoops -- that will be able to be viewed on phones, computers, you name it.
Lastly, that pesky Pac-12 tournament. It's not exactly MSG in mid-March, you know? There are attendance problems, certainly. So while the Staples Center still seems to be the place to hold the tournament in the short-term -- the production center and studios for ESPN and FOX are located across the street from Staples -- on the conference call, Scott did not eliminate the possibility of changing venues down the road.