PHOENIX — Larry Scott has spent his nearly two years as Pac-10 commissioner bolstering the conference’s brand by expanding its reach.
The former professional tennis player unfurled his latest and greatest ground stroke on Wednesday, announcing the launch of the conference’s own television network and a joint 12-year deal with ESPN and Fox that’s the richest in college sports at a hefty $3 billion.
“I think it’s fair to say 18 months ago, never in our wildest dreams would we have envisioned being in the position that we’re in today,” Arizona State athletic director Lisa Love said.
Member schools had already agreed to an equal revenue-sharing plan and will rake it in with the new TV deal, each earning about $21 million annually in guaranteed money.
The roughly $250 million per year for the conference puts the new Pac-12 — Colorado and Utah are set to join the next two years — ahead of the Big Ten ($220 million) and SEC ($205 million) for top dog in TV deals.
For a conference that made less than $60 million in media rights this past season, that’s a big deal.
“Today’s announcement of this landmark agreement represents an important milestone in the transformation from the Pac-10 to the Pac-12,” Scott said. “The increased revenue that will come to the Pac-12 comes at a critically important time for our universities given the unprecedented financial challenges that higher education and athletics within higher education is facing.”
The TV contract, which will begin with the 2012-13 season, combined with the Pac-12 Network will allow the conference to air every football and men’s basketball game, numerous women’s basketball games, along with Olympic and other non-revenue sports within the conference.
The Pac-12 Network will be fully owned by the conference, unlike the Big Ten Network, 49 percent of which is owned by Fox.
“It is a historic deal for the conference and our university,” Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne said. “It gives us a much-needed revenue stream and at the same time improves our ability to compete on a national level for many years to come.”
Normally rivals in sports coverage, ESPN — and partner ABC — and Fox will combine to broadcast 44 regular-season football games, including 10 to a national audience, and 68 men’s basketball games.
The Pac-12 championship game in football will be televised next season by Fox, which will also utilize its FX channel in its coverage, and alternate every year between the two networks. The men’s conference basketball tournament will have a similar rotation, starting with ESPN next season.
“We do compete at a lot of levels, often like they do on Saturdays in college football, but there are a lot of times when it makes sense to get together,” said Randy Freer, president of Fox Sports Networks. “We were able to come together and realize this could be a relationship where everyone truly won. The sum of the parts were bigger than the whole in this case.”
Along with the Pac-12 Digital Network, the Pac-12 Network will air some football games and the bulk of men’s basketball games, roughly 120 per season. It also will show numerous women’s basketball games and another 200 live Olympic sports, which the conference has dominated in over the years.
“It’s been said if the Pacific-12 Conference were a country, we’d be top-10 in the world as a country at the Olympics,” Love said. “It’s a remarkable conference, but because we haven’t been as exposed, by and large unless you’re here, you don’t know about it. It’s our opportunity now to share the good news in that regard.”
The new network and the increased coverage with Fox and ESPN fit perfectly with Scott’s vision of giving the Pac-12 more exposure, particularly in the densely populated Northeast, where late-night games in the conference had usually been an afterthought.
“We congratulate Larry Scott and his team for delivering on a grand scale for our conference, our university, our student-athletes and fans,” Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said. “The new agreements dramatically increase our national exposure while providing a solid, long-term financial foundation to help ensure we remain self-sufficient.”
The conference also created the Pac-12 Media Enterprises to manage and sell sponsorship and licensing rights controlled by the conference, along with the football championship game and men’s and women’s basketball conference tournaments.
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