What the new Pac-12 deal means for USC

May, 3, 2011
5/03/11
10:52
PM PT
So, according to various media reports, Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott is set to announce Wednesday at the conference's annual spring meetings in Phoenix that his new 12-team league will get roughly $250 million annually for its television rights for the 12 next years, beginning in 2012-2013.

The new deal, agreed to in tandem with ESPN and Fox, will more than quadruple what the conference's schools had been pulling in for the last several years and also top the rest of the nation's conferences in both overall amount and dollars per school.

The deal's total value is fairly remarkable. In June 2010, A.J. Maestas, the president of a sports marketing agency that deals with conference television contracts, said it would be an "extreme stretch" for the new Pac-12 to ever get $17 or more million per school (or in the range of $205 million total) in its new deal. In October, Maestas projected the Pac-12 would get around $175 million. In April, just one month ago, he projected it would get around $220 million.

So, besides the fact that USC athletic director Pat Haden will be there for the festivities tomorrow, what does this stuff all mean for USC?

It's mostly positive. Even by the most liberal of estimates, USC is more than doubling its yearly financial intake, and it's probably more like tripling. Full details on the previous deals -- which included separate agreements with FSN, ESPN/ABC and Versus -- were never announced fully, but multiple reports over the last several years had the total value of it around $50 million. It wasn't equal revenue-sharing, though, so USC pulled in significantly more than that annually. But it was still nowhere near the cool $20.8 million the Trojans will get each year now.

For years now, there had been two primary things holding USC back in comparison to other schools across the country: the lack of a state-of-the-art training facility and a subpar television deal that not only paid them too little but also kept them, often undeservedly, out of prime-time television.

Those have both been erased in the last four months, and they'll both begin to take effect at the start of the next school year, when the John McKay Center is set to open and the TV deal will begin.

A few other things to keep in mind:

1. USC didn't think Larry Scott would get this much out of the networks.

If so, why would the Trojans, traditionally the conference's biggest money-maker, bargain for a clause in their contract with the conference that they would get an extra $2 million payout, along with UCLA, if the deal didn't reach $170 million annually?

Instead of fighting for that, it would've made a lot more sense for both schools -- and USC, especially -- to attempt to take a slighter bigger piece of the overall pie, as the Trojans had in the last conference contract.

That's either poor negotiating or just an unexpectedly rich deal.

2. Game days -- and times -- will continue to change.

Remember how USC has two weekday games scheduled for this year, at Cal at AT&T Park on a Thursday and at Colorado in Boulder on a Friday?

Get used to it. In a modern sports landscape which is only getting more and crowded, one of the best ways to increase viewers is to adjust broadcast times. The television networks are often more likely to get higher ratings when they are broadcasting one of two games on a Friday night than one of eight on a Saturday afternoon.

And when they're paying this much, you can be sure they'll be very specific about what days and times they want to show games. And it's the same for basketball, too. In past years, the Pac-10 has clung to its beloved Thursday-Saturday weekend schedule for games, even when other conferences moved to other days and experienced success.

That will likely be no more, beginning in the 2012-2013 season. Expect basketball games to be played on any day of the week.

3. The conference network, a less-publicized part of the deal, could have a big impact on USC's Olympic sports.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the new contract is this: both of the other conference or school networks created in recent years, Texas' Longhorn Network and the Big Ten Network, are either partially or entirely owned by television networks as part of the overall deal between the two entities.

Not the Pac-12's. Scott told the San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday that he didn't think it was a necessary part of the agreement to give the networks equity in the channel.

So while the Pac-12 network will clearly lose money in its first few years as it attempts to build a subscriber base while creating content ideas without the premier and basketball games in the conference, it holds a lot of promise for the long-term future and could essentially become an annual monetary boost for each of the conference's schools.

Plus sports like baseball, water polo, tennis and volleyball will presumably get more television coverage.
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