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[Scott] goes on to say these are the first steps in the long, messy march toward what he sees as inevitable: a single football conference consisting of as many as 72 teams, possessing as much negotiating leverage and commercial potential as the National Football League. “The market right now is inefficient. We have too many sellers and limited buyers. Imagine the kind of value we could unleash if there were only one seller. All six power conferences negotiating one deal. That’s where this is going.”
How much bigger can college football get? Scott points out that there are a hundred million households in the U.S. with cable or satellite subscriptions, paying an average of $120 a month. “We are fishing in a $100 billion-a-year pond that is essentially held together by live sports,” says Bevilacqua. “Must-carry programming is largely live sports.”
Remember that argument about centralization vs. fragmentation? Scott has proved that centralization unleashes value at the conference level, and in future negotiations other conferences will take note. It is only a matter of time, Scott believes, before it happens throughout college football. The old multiconference structure will eventually collapse, giving rise to a single consortium, made up of America’s biggest football schools, that can negotiate collectively for the richest possible broadcasting deal. If Larry Scott has his way, college football one day will be as lucrative as the professional version, rivaling the $6 billion a year in TV revenue the NFL will make in 2014. Reflecting on what he has already accomplished at the Pac-12, Scott says: “This deal is the benchmark. Until the next one.”
To unlock the value, Scott needed both to expand and to centralize. So began the whirlwind flying around the country in a borrowed private jet, from Austin, Texas, to Norman, Okla., to Boulder, Colo., as Scott attempted to assemble a superconference with a TV footprint of 75 million homes. Scott says it was no secret the conference thought the University of Texas was a good fit for the Pac-10, academically and athletically. However, in Scott’s negotiations with UT president Bill Powers, it was clear Texas was not committed to the idea of sharing revenue equally with 15 other schools. UT wanted to maintain the new Longhorn Network, all of whose profits flow to Texas. “I had a vision of a league-based, centralized brand, and Texas wanted to do their own thing,” Scott says. “It was about control. In the short term, Texas is successful enough that it might work going at it alone. But in the long run, I don’t think so.” In June 2010, Texas informed Scott it would not join the Pac-10.