USC and Oregon are flailing, so Friday night’s Stanford-Washington game will almost certainly determine the Pac-12’s strongest Playoff candidate.
The Cardinal’s 2015 Pac-12 title came with two losses, bumping the league out of the Playoff. Unlike other conferences (like the one centered around Texas) who engaged in large public self-examinations following Playoff snubs, the Pac-12 looked at ’15, decided it was confident in its approach of aggressive non-conference scheduling and a nine-game conference slate, and sat tight.
“As a league we’re very confident in who we are,” commissioner Larry Scott told SB Nation on Tuesday.
That’s a mantra. Or a branding campaign. Probably both.
You might not have had a chance to see the Huskies survive Arizona in OT Saturday night, because the game aired on Pac-12 Network. Except now that excuse doesn’t work as well; as of Sept. 8 the Pac 12 Network, including all six of its regional incarnations, are available on Sling, a streaming live TV service that’s available to anyone, anywhere in the U.S., regardless of your cable provider.
That’s important because if cord-cutting marks a fundamental change in consumer behavior, it could shift the entire outlook on Scott’s Pac-12 vision, which to this point has been heavily criticized.
1. When the Pac-12 Network was formed in 2012, Scott bet on owning content over trading it for distribution. The Pac-12 owns 100 percent of the network and its programming. All the revenue is theirs, but so is all the cost of running the network, which includes a nice facility in the heart of expensive San Francisco.
The conference signed 12-year deals with ESPN and FOX in 2011 to distribute games like Stanford-Washington. Those two networks pick through the Pac-12 inventory for football (22 games per year to each network) and men’s basketball. After that, every game goes to the Pac-12 Network and is the conference’s to leverage.
2. Because the Network wasn’t a partnership (like FOX and the Big Ten) or licensed (like ESPN’s SEC Network) the league was alone when negotiating with carriage providers, most notably Los Angeles-based DirecTV, which balked.
The SEC and B1G networks air on more cable providers; in 2015 the Pac-12 Network was in 12 million homes, vs. 60 million-plus for the SEC and Big Ten. Accordingly, the SEC and Big Ten send lots and lots of money from those networks to their member schools while Pac-12 ADs have grumbled that the Network is a costly error.
Scott says that since the conference meetings this spring, there is “strong alignment” among the leadership and a renewed focus on the long-term potential of the conference’s tactics.
“Time will tell. There are other approaches that might have been more safe, that might have provided more short-term value but might have mortgaged future value and benefit. But time will tell,” Scott said.
3. Let’s not forget about Asia. And now Australia, too. And ... Canada?
“I should mention Canada, too,” Scott says when asked about potential international expansion of football.
The Pac-12 is bringing basketball games to China and evaluating Mexico and Canada for football games. Scott also said “there’s certainly potential” for future Australian games.
If dragging your teams across hemispheres sounds like a punchline to SEC and Big Ten country, consider this. Remember that Cal-Hawaii game in Sydney, Australia, last month? The league used that to announce a new TV deal with Fox Sports Australia for football and basketball.
That’s what business folks call “new revenue streams.” The terms of the Aussie TV deal weren’t disclosed, but whether it’s $1 million or $100 million, it’s found money. And if the Pac-12 can leverage its basketball content in China into a TV deal, the NBA’s success in that country implies another revenue stream that the Pac-12’s Power 5 competition won’t have.
4. And don’t forget about the internet. Conference-owned “video content” didn’t mean much in 2011, but Scott is entering into deals with platforms like Twitter for live broadcasting of Pac-12 Olympic sports. That’s ostensibly a dry run for more lucrative content, like football, to one day air on such a platform. If it does, the revenue is the Pac-12’s alone, not ESPN’s or FOX’s.
“I’d say I think our strategy has been validated,” Scott said. “We entered the process with a view that we wanted to hedge the future. In 2011 we had an intuition that technology was going to disrupt the models [of viewership] and there would be changes difficult to foresee that would impact how the fan consumes media.”
Scott had seemingly innovated and future-proofed himself into a corner. Enter the cord-cutters, who have caused mighty ESPN’s audience and revenue to decline and the formation of commitment-free steaming services like Sling and Playstation’s Vue.
“We wanted to be in the best position long-term for our consumers, to test different models. That intuition has shown to be somewhat prescient, although no one could anticipate how quickly we would be seeing models emerge, like over-the-top, or that some of the biggest players in tech would be getting into video.”
It’s all speculative at this point. That’s why words like “positioning” are so popular with Scott and like-minded Silicon Valley executives. But there’s some honesty in their approach; if network entities like FOX and ESPN, who most heavily impact the power balance of college conferences with TV contracts, continue to thin in a digital landscape, Scott’s modest present could be a lucrative future.
Other leagues are tied to TV networks wholesale for decades; the SEC Network agreement runs through 2034. If ESPN declines, so does the SEC’s long-term revenue. The Pac-12 is poorer for the present, but isn’t burdened with having to fight the future.
“I think there’s a strong likelihood we’re moving towards that world. In our next set of agreements, I think there’s a strong chance you’ll see some ‘a la carte.’ From a strategic standpoint, I’m delighted where we are. We value the flexibility of being able to experiment.”
Yes, Ed Orgeron will have a chance to land the full-time LSU job.
Interim head coach Orgeron has done all of this before, which makes him a real threat to impress athletic director Joe Alleva enough to grab the full-time job.
“He’s learned from USC. [Orgeron] would have never agreed to this if he didn’t think he couldn’t have a shot,” a source close to LSU told SB Nation.
That “shot” will most likely hinge on winning the division and conference. LSU is 1-1 in the SEC after the 18-13 loss at Auburn that ended Les Miles’ 11-year run in Baton Rouge.
Orgeron went a respectable 6-2 as interim head coach at USC, including a win over No. 4 Stanford, but the platform he’s been afforded here is unlike any other for an auditioning coach, maybe in history. Four of O’s eight games will be vs. S&P+ top-10 teams (Alabama, Ole Miss, Florida, Texas A&M). Even both of LSU’s remaining non-conference opponents, South Alabama and Southern Miss, have SEC wins this season.
The dismissal of coordinator Cam Cameron, be it by Alleva or Orgeron himself, allows for an offensive revamp. LSU is 110th nationally in scoring offense (21.0 points per game) and 21st (16.8) in scoring defense. However it happens, if Orgeron can affect positive change on offense and win the SEC West, he’ll achieve what Miles was expected to in 2016 and have an inside track on the permanent job.
The ACC can’t ignore why it’s moving its title game, or where it’s likely headed.
Orlando looks to be the front-runner to replace Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium for the ACC Championship on Dec. 3. SB Nation can confirm that Florida Citrus Sports, the group behind the Russell Athletic Bowl, Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, and Camping World Kickoff, is in pursuit of the event and believed to be the front-runner.
Because the site routinely hosts games (most recently Florida State’s win over Ole Miss), it’s an attractive option. The ACC can run the event with Florida Citrus Sports staff as on-site support.
If Camping World Stadium lands the ACC Championship, this could be a chance for the ACC and college football to recognize a LGBTQ community it’s all but ignored for decades. Charlotte lost the game months after North Carolina’s legislature passed the HB2 bill, which legalized discrimination against LGBTQ people and mandated transgender people use public facilities per their birth sex. Orlando is the site of a June 12 mass shooting that killed 49 people and wounded 53 at a gay nightclub.
To some in college football, those are two isolated incidents. For some others, the location is impossible to ignore.