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Speculating on what a reported Pac-12 Amazon and ESPN TV deal could look like
The future macro moves for Cal's future in the Pac-12 are in motion.
With the Pac-12 Network likely heading into oblivion after the departure of USC and UCLA after the 2023-24 season, it’s time for the conference to iron out their next TV deal. It remains to be seen how much territory can be carved out in the negotiations, but it’s critical for George Klivakoff to get good terms to suit all parties.
CBS Sports reports that the Pac-12 is likely to pursue Amazon and ESPN as joint partners in their new deal starting in 2024. While there was earlier speculation the conference might pursue a fully streaming partnership with Amazon just to chase the highest raw dollar amount, there is concern that going completely online will push the Pac-12 aside from first tier status. Maintaining a linear TV partner—particularly ESPN, which will maintain top billing for the near future in college athletics—is crucial for national attention, exposure, and more bids in a twelve team playoff system.
Former Fox Sports executive Bob Thompson (who has kept his ear close to all talks) weighed in with his prediction.
If it’s solely the Worldwide Leader, I’d expect ESPN to take on a package of about two dozen games, and Amazon would take up the rest.
Some conjecture on what ESPN would do with their games.
ESPN would likely try and retain their Pac-12 After Dark rights to keep the profitable 7 to 7:30 PM Pacific/10 to 10:30 PM Eastern timeslot.
The Big Ten TV partners of FOX, CBS and NBC could choose to counter with a late night game for UCLA and USC every now and then, but it’s likely they’ll cede that territory to ESPN since they will want those programs and the LA market in more premium slots.
ESPN will likely carve out space for several Friday night games.
ABC would probably grab one or two slots for the primetime or afternoon slots, but expect the bulk of those games to be eaten up by the SEC in ESPN’s new huge deal, with the Big 12 and ACC fighting for the remaining inventory as well.
With ESPN retaining some rights, this will also likely preserve College Gameday taking at least one visit to the Conference of Champions a year.
ESPN+ might also come into play for some of the less interesting Pac-10 vs. FCS games.
The rest of the football games would then fall to Amazon. If I were to break it down, it’d go something like this:
Amazon will generally air an afternoon game, a primetime game, and a late night game to fill out the remainder of a weekly five game schedule. Since ESPN will have the late night slots, expect Amazon to put its bigger contests on during the day.
Amazon will certainly want to put some of their more marquee matchups on Friday night to get the highest return on investment.
There won’t be any Thursday night games due to Amazon’s existing Thursday night NFL deal, but you could certainly see them promoting a host of Pac-12 games during each telecast for an additional boost.
While the conference has generally been a fiasco in terms of actually reaching households, the gameday operations of the network have proven to be more than capable. Amazon has proven with its Thursday Night Football broadcast that it can handle widespread distribution. It could be a solid partnership.
As for college basketball, expect ESPN/ESPN2/ESPNU to take at least half if not the majority of the package. This will be critical for retaining the support of basketball contenders like Arizona and Oregon who have been sniffing around other opportunities, as well as attracting the likes of a San Diego State for expansion. It will likely mean more late night games.
ESPN+ will also likely take the majority of what remains of Pac-12 basketball, particularly women’s basketball and the mid-major men’s non-conference matchups. Disney is serious about making its ESPN streaming service work to help bundle new customers into more expensive packages. Any major college games will be helpful. The Big 12 does similar things with their college basketball games.
Now that they’ve seen success with Thursday Night Football, expect Amazon to take a solid step into basketball. There are rumors they will bid heavy for an online TV package for the NBA when the new rights deal is up in 2024-25. It’d make sense for them to complement that with some college basketball matchups, although I will imagine ESPN & ESPN+ will likely take the bulk of the games to start.
As for the Olympic sports, I’d imagine there will be a hard bid for ESPN to go hard in adding the Pac-12’s tier three media rights for their ESPN+ streaming service. The Pac-12 has by far the best Olympic sports of any college program, and it would provide a distribution boon to have these contests and any additional conference matchups on their streaming services. I do not see Amazon taking big swings on the Olympic sports since it’s unlikely to drive new subscriptions or retention.
Depending on who takes what, Amazon and ESPN+ will also likely take control of what remains of the Pac-12 Network apparatus of the conference, which will move from their expensive San Francisco office to San Ramon to save on office rent after the season. So I’d expect most of the Pac-12 Network announcers you’re familiar with to fill in their familiar roles on Amazon or ESPN+.
There are a lot of moving pieces, and ultimately the final numbers will determine success or failure. Initial projections by John Canzano from last summer has reports of the media deal falling around $27 to $29 million a year for each Pac-12 team like Cal, which would fall slightly behind the Big 12 ($31.6 million) and still dip behind their current payout of $30+ million. Before USC and UCLA left, the projections for a new TV media deal went as high as $50 million. Cal could receive an assistance of up to $2 to $10 million a year from UCLA, although expect that to be fought by the Bruins.
Safe to say, an answer is coming on TV rights deal. It might not be satisfactory, but it will keep conference members afloat…for the time being. It remains to be seen whether afloat is enough for everyone involved.