Those hung up on the value of media rights deals at this point aren't asking the right questions. Whether the Pac-12 makes more than the Big 12 isn't the issue. It has become less about money and more about visibility.
The advantage of the Big 12 jumping the line to sign a new media rights deal with ESPN and Fox last month at least secures the conference's future: It will continue to be shown on linear television. The money is the money, an average of $31.66 million per school beginning in 2025 with an all-in figure of about $50 million per school annually when the College Football Playoff expands.
The Pac-12 is expected to finalize a deal in principle by the beginning of 2023, two industry sources told CBS Sports. One source said the league had sent out a "robust" proposal to ESPN and Amazon.
If a deal with ESPN and a streaming giant like Amazon is reached, the Pac-12 would likely be able to command a sum approximate to the Big 12's base figure. (The Pac-12's all-in total -- including the CFP, bowl games and NCAA Tournament payouts -- wouldn't be as large, mostly because the value of Pac-12 basketball pales in comparison to that of the Big 12.)
By cutting in line, the Big 12 also gets access to broadcast windows already choked with premium Big Ten and SEC content. Those two giants already will be dominating the day with Big Noon (Fox), the valuable 3:30 window (SEC) and Big Ten Saturday Night (NBC). USC and UCLA will also be playing Big Ten games in the late-night fourth window.
Rather, the biggest question for the Pac-12 remains: Who will see its games? For the first time, a Power Five conference would be showing significant content on a stand-alone streaming service without a TV affiliation. It's possible that caused strong push back from inside his conference when Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren kept advocating for adding California, Oregon, Stanford and Washington in expansion.
Not only are those schools not worth the $75 million per year Big Ten schools got in, the likes of Purdue, Minnesota and Indiana pushed back against further expansion. They didn't want some of their games relegated to a still-emerging streaming platform. (The Big Ten negotiated with Amazon while weighing its options, but a sizable bid was turned down, according to SportsBusiness Journal.)
For the moment, Amazon has let it be known it is only doing business with must-see, premium live sports television properties, namely the NFL.
"[Amazon has] no interest in bad games," one industry source said.
Another industry source suggested, if Amazon wants to go all-in in premium live sports, it might make a big bid for part of the expanded College Football Playoff and pass on the Pac-12 altogether.
Amazon claims 200 million Amazon Prime subscribers worldwide. It does not break out U.S. subscribers. Whatever conferences are being told by Amazon could be subject to wide interpretation. What if the majority of U.S. subscriptions are on both coasts? That might appeal to the Pac-12 but certainly not the Big Ten, which is centered in the Midwest and Northeast.
If the Big Ten were to expand and need a fourth partner, its newly available content would likely come after the top 70 games that are currently split between ESPN and Fox. That's a lot of Cal-Purdues and Stanford-Minnesotas. That's also a long of angry coaches, athletic directors and administrators worrying how their games are going to be seen by fans and recruits. The Pac-12 is already losing quality content with departure of USC and UCLA.
The Big 12 remains curious about adding Pac-12 teams in expansion. Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark wouldn't mind having members in all four time zones, which would all but guarantee content in four of those television windows.
So how, exactly, is the Pac-12 going to position its games so folks can see them? A heavy reliance on streaming could work, it's just not industry standard right now. If anything, there has been a resurgence of traditional platforms.
The Big Ten went primarily with three over-the-air broadcast networks: CBS, Fox and NBC. Depending what the Pac-12 does, the Big 12 may be the only Power Five conference partnered with the two linear cable giants: ESPN and Fox.
The Pac-12 would be betting on the future. Streaming is coming, big-time. Experts suggest it's going to replace linear TV. Just not yet. Only 85% of the country have at least one streaming subscription.
That's why it's wise to ignore the media rights revenue aspect when it comes to comparing the Big 12 and Pac-12. Whether they're $45 million or $50 million behind the SEC and Big Ten, it's still a massive disadvantage.
Will the Big 12 expand further?
Details have emerged on the inner workings of Big 12 expansion. While it's no secret Yormark wouldn't mind expanding beyond 12 teams, Big 12 partner ESPN has agreed to pay pro rata (equal value to existing teams) should the Big 12 add members, CBS Sports has confirmed. Meanwhile, the league's other partner, Fox, has not made such an agreement.
ESPN owns 63% of the value of the $2.3 billion contract that begins in 2025. As such, it gets top picks with the four best football games each season, six of the top eight, eight of the top 12 and 12 of the top 20, according to SportsBusiness Journal. Fox, which owns the remaining 37% of the deal, receives 26 games per season.
If the Big 12 expands, the new team(s) would get 63% of pro rata revenue (approximately $20 million). Should Fox not approve of expansion, the Big 12 would retain the right to shop those added games to other media partners. Still, those added games wouldn't be available for a new partner until after Fox had made all its picks.
In 2016, the Big 12 wasfor any teams it added in expansion -- up to $1 billion in additional funds. The league ultimately decided not to expand.
The current Big 12 deal isn't finalized until the partners sign what is called the long-form contract. That includes the final grant of rights that secures schools TV rights to the conference for the term of the deal. Big 12 sources say it is safe to assume the league wouldn't have done a deal with ESPN and Fox without the "commitment" of the conference's board of directors (school presidents).
Is San Diego State on the move?
There's all kinds of speculation surrounding San Diego State joining the Pac-12. If the Mountain West school does make the jump, the Pac-12 would not have to necessarily bring in a 12th member to balance the schedule. That's right, the current Pac-12 (with only 10 teams beginning 2024) could be the Pac-11.
The NCAA changed its minimum membership requirements years ago at the request of the Big 12, ironically enough. In 2016, the NCAA ruled a league with less than 12 members could stage a championship game. In 2017, the Big 12 reinstated its championship with a 10-team league.
That was a precursor to modern league composition. Since that year, the Big 12 has matched its first- and second-place teams in its league title game. That worked out so well in terms of playoff access that other leagues caught on to the idea. The AAC and Pac-12 currently play in one "table." Other leagues are expected to follow.
A Pac-11 makes sense in that it would be hard enough to squeeze pro rata (equal value) media rights out of San Diego State in comparison to the other 10 schools. Adding a 12th member would further split the pie.
"We continue to have conversations all along with various entities," said San Diego State AD J.D. Whicker when asked about going to the Pac-12. "As we assess those, we'll make the best decision for San Diego State."
Gonzaga is talking ...
The Big 12 is not the only leagueon Gonzaga basketball.
"Gonzaga's talking to everybody right now," said a person familiar with the conversations. "They're looking at all their options. I think they're interested in ensuring that they can protect themselves going forward. If you have the opportunity to go to the Pac-12 or Big 12, [you've got to do it.]"
The addition of Gonzaga to an already-loaded Big 12 would add to what is widely considered the best Division I basketball league. It's not clear what rightsholder would pay for the addition. Basketball is considered only 20% of any media rights deal. What would one team be worth?
One industry insider said the move would make sense for ESPN, which owns WCC rights (where Gonzaga currently resides). It could shift that money to the Big 12 in some way, because without Gonzaga (a national program), the WCC becomes something akin to a low major.