CHRISTIAN CAPLE

As media day nears, 5 questions for Pac-12 commissioner Kliavkoff

Jul 12, 2023, 4:12 PM

Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff...

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff speaks on July 29, 2022. (Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

(Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Pac-12 had barely processed the announced departures of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten before commissioner George Kliavkoff, every head football coach and a couple-dozen players had to field questions about it at the conference’s media day in Hollywood last summer.

Surely, nobody in attendance that day believed that nearly a year later, the league still wouldn’t have its next media-rights deal in place — the current deal expires ahead of the 2024-25 academic year — and therefore still wouldn’t know with certainty that its 10 remaining members are sticking together.

Unless the Pac-12 announces some kind of framework for the deal in the next nine days — an increasingly unlikely proposition, though you never say never — media-rights questions will dominate the league’s July 21 media day in Las Vegas.

There are dozens of possibilities, but I’ve listed five big ones for the commissioner below.

Of course, it isn’t necessarily in Kliavkoff’s — or the Pac-12’s — best interest to answer these questions, at least not in any kind of depth. Negotiations are ongoing, and fan unrest is no reason to risk screwing things up with a potential partner(s). But this still is an opportunity for Kliavkoff and the Pac-12 to at least attempt to quell concerns, especially with so little reliable information available throughout the past year.

1. What has changed since the joint statement in February?

It’s easy to mock the joint statement issued by the 10 remaining Pac-12 presidents and chancellors way back in February (five months ago now, if anyone is counting). But I’m genuinely interested in knowing what changed between then and now, assuming the conference truly did “look forward to consummating successful media rights deal(s) in the very near future.”

Surely, the presidents did not issue this statement with the expectation that media-rights negotiations would bleed into July (and perhaps August). WSU president Kirk Schulz essentially said as much before his Board of Regents, remarking: “I never thought we would still be in June negotiating and working with our media partners around what that final deal is going to be.” So what changed? Did they truly believe those negotiations had reached a point where formal approval and public announcement were just around the corner? If so, what happened? Or was the goal primarily just to swipe back at the prevailing narrative of the Pac-12 being on the verge of collapse, with no particular attention paid to the anticipated timeline?

There is scant information available with which to answer those questions. Schulz — who took over as the chair of the Pac-12’s executive committee on July 1 — did say in May that potential media partners had optics concerns regarding recent layoffs, but it’s impossible to know how significant of a factor that truly was (or is).

Even if it’s not this specific question, expect Kliavkoff to receive some form of: “What’s the hold up?” I’m interested to hear what kind of response the league has crafted.

2. How important is the timeline?

Along the same lines, there seems to be a general belief that the Pac-12 needs to act with greater urgency to get a deal done, lest one or more of its member schools grow weary of the process and bolt for the Big 12.

But the few on-record, public comments made by league representatives haven’t always portrayed that urgency. Consider this, from Arizona president Robert Robbins, in an interview with The Athletic back in mid-March: “I’ve been a lone voice saying: ‘Why don’t we wait a little bit longer? What’s really forcing us to make this decision right now?’” Also, a Pac-12 CEO Group source told John Canzano that they were “finally feeling no time pressure.”

I’m curious to what extent Kliavkoff agrees with that premise (and also whether Robbins still feels that way, but he won’t be on the podium), especially considering Robbins began his executive committee term earlier this month. Will Kliavkoff attempt to portray a sense of urgency in his media-day remarks? Or will he land closer to Robbins, and assert no timeline is more important than simply securing the best deal possible — ideally one that pays each member school in the range of $31.7 million, the reported per-school value of the Big 12’s contract?

3. What should fans expect re: streaming?

Kliavkoff was willing a year ago to forecast that the Pac-12’s next media-rights deal would include “a big digital partner for some of our rights,” a clear indicator that the conference expected a portion of its football games would air on streaming platforms. In light of Fox driving the Big Ten deal and ESPN re-upping with the Big 12, there is some question as to the appetite of a potential linear partner to purchase a majority of the Pac-12’s football inventory.

This often is framed as a debate between exposure and revenue, the idea being that a majority-streaming deal likely would pay more than one heavy on linear, but would increase the burden on potential viewers and potentially hurt recruiting.

If the Pac-12 were in position to make a definitive statement on streaming vs. linear, it probably would already have a deal to announce. But I’d still be curious to hear how Kliavkoff might handle the question, and to what degree he might be willing to estimate, even if roughly, the percentage of conference games expected to land on a streaming platform(s).

4. What is the likelihood of expansion, in some form?

Kliavkoff can easily take his cues from Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark on this one and keep things generic. Yormark, speaking at his conference’s media days on Wednesday, told reporters: “We do have a plan, and hopefully we can execute that plan sooner than later. But as I’ve always said, I love the composition of this conference right now. … If we stay at 12, we’re perfectly fine with that. If the opportunity presents itself where there’s something that creates value and aligns well with our goals and objectives, starting with the board, then we’re certainly going to pursue it.”

The messaging from the Pac-12 has been clear, as Washington athletic director Jen Cohen mentioned a couple weeks ago: first comes media rights, then comes any decisions on expansion. I’d imagine Kliavkoff will reiterate this order of operations, but we know the league has engaged in discussions on the subject, and that Kliavkoff himself visited SMU in February. San Diego State, long considered the top candidate for Pac-12 expansion, is stuck in a sort of limbo.

It would be inappropriate for the commissioner to refer specifically to any school, but I wonder how he might address the idea of expansion, more generally, especially in light of the SDSU-Mountain West saga playing out so publicly.

5. How will College Football Playoff revenue be distributed?

Canzano reported in early June that Pac-12 schools have negotiated “incentivized sharing of postseason revenue” related to the CFP as part of its verbally agreed-upon grant-of-rights (which won’t actually be signed until a media-rights deal is in place).

This has long been suggested as a potential revenue sweetener for the league’s biggest brands. Under the current structure, Pac-12 teams equally share any cash distributed to the conference as a reward for one of its schools making the Playoff (which of course hasn’t happened since the 2016 season). In the new, 12-team CFP, the Pac-12 champion would be virtually guaranteed a bid, and the league would therefore be guaranteed an accompanying participation payout.

How will the league split those payments, and what percentage might the participating school get to keep for itself? The ACC introduced a “success incentive initiative” in May (taking effect in 2024-25), with details not yet known. Is the Pac-12 headed for a similar future? And will Kliavkoff be able or willing to share at least an outline of any new structure, assuming it is something the presidents already have hammered out?

It should be noted, too, that these dollars are separate from the amount of CFP money that will be distributed to each school unrelated to participation. Schulz touched on this at the aforementioned regents meeting, noting that while media-rights distributions from the conference could stay “fairly flat,” WSU “should see a nice bump in revenue” with CFP money factored in, though the amount of those payments isn’t yet known.

This article was originally published at OnMontlake.com, the new home for Christian Caple’s full UW Huskies football coverage. Subscribe to On Montlake for full access to in-depth UW coverage.

More from Christian: 

• UW Huskies’ 5 former 3-star recruits who are key in 2023
• Jen Cohen’s remarks, UW Huskies recruiting, more
• UW Huskies continue June recruiting surge: A look at 3 new commits
• 5 UW Huskies we aren’t talking enough about

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As media day nears, 5 questions for Pac-12 commissioner Kliavkoff