So what do these three things say about the future of USC sports?
First, there’s the $280 million, 15-year deal UCLA signed with Under Armour last week for the Bruins to wear, merchandise and market UA’s shoes, uniforms and sports apparel. That works out to $18.7 million a year for the folks from Westwood.
Next there’s the official data that the number of homes with cable TV will be down by a big number -- 2.2 percent in June -- and the average network’s penetration will be down 3 percent. In one month. That’s a lot.
ESPN led the way down with a 3.6 percent overall dive with ESPNU’s 4.2 percent having the biggest fall.
And finally, there’s the news broken Tuesday by Scout’s Texas guy, Chip Brown of Horns Digest, saying that despite all the recent hullabaloo, there will not be any expansion for the 10-team Big 12.
So how do we tie these together? Here’s how: The UCLA deal sets the market for West Coast schools who happen to be at the right time and the right place. If UCLA is worth that much, how much is USC worth?
Here’s our answer: more. More than the biggest deal in college brand marketing history. So what does that say about the value of USC and UCLA together? They’re worth a lot.
UCLA, for one example, will get 18 times the money, annually, from Under Armour for wearing their shoes and shorts than it will get for all its games broadcast on the forlorn Pac-12 Network where it shares billing with the likes of Oregon State, Washington State, Utah and Colorado.
OK, so that’s apples and oranges a bit. But we’re guessing those four would not be getting the same $18.7 million – all together – to wear anyone’s shoes and shorts. But they do get the same split in the Pac-12 TV deal.
Our take from this is that the LA schools are worth way more to national marketers than are many of their colleagues in the conference getting that same TV money. In the NFL, where the Green Bay Packers, the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants all get the same share of an ever-expanding really big TV pot, that’s one thing.
But as the above cable data makes clear, the college TV pot is no longer going to be expanding indefinitely. You doubt that? Then you haven’t been paying attention. Check out the opening weekend schedule for the SEC this September.
Alabama plays USC. Auburn plays Clemson. LSU plays Wisconsin. Texas A&M plays UCLA. Missouri plays West Virginia. Georgia plays North Carolina. And Ole Miss plays Florida State.
You think the SEC hasn’t gotten the message that they’ve given the networks way too many guarantee games worth nothing except to the directional/FBS/NAIA teams they too often hosted with little or no value to the TV folks paying them so much for so little so often?
Which gets us to the 10-team Big 12, the league that came within 30 minutes of imploding six years ago before Oklahoma decided not to go to the Pac-12. Since it looks like the conference that’s been left behind just couldn’t pull the trigger on bringing in a Cincinnati or a Houston to get back to 12 teams, the Big 12 has a problem.
Houston football is obviously on the rise with Tom Herman and with an enrollment of more than 40,000, it would be the second-largest university in the Big 12. But with an average home football attendance of just over 33,000, it would be second-lowest in the league after Kansas. And how long does Herman stay?
So we mention these three things as Lynn Swann is a month away from taking over at USC as AD. And our thought is that it’s never too early to take a look at where USC, the Pac-12, the TV contracts and networks and marketing/branding should be heading down the road.
Not next year. Not even in a couple of years maybe. But surely well before the Pac-12’s original TV deal expires in 2024-25. And to get there, to get the next right step so that USC is not left behind with a stuck-in-place Pac-12 while the SEC and Big Ten move way ahead, the Pac-12 can’t get there treading water and staying the same. As it has for the last five years or so.
Neither can the Big 12. And the decision not to expand gives us the chance now to play “What if . . . ?”
What if Lynn decides it’s time to assert USC’s rightful place as the leader of the Pac-12 pack? And what if he gets together with five or seven or so like-minded Pac-12 programs to take the long look ahead and keep them all up with the top tier of college programs?
And what if they come up with a league so good the TV guys will pay for it? Pay double what the current deal is worth, as some TV execs figure it would be if it happened? And that’s saying something in a TV world where no raises are guaranteed when the next round of contracts come up unless you’re offering something really special.
What if with that in mind, the answer you come up with is that it’s going to take a merger of the top Pac-12 teams and the top Big 12 teams into a – for starters – 12-team East-West Big Pac Conference.
Start with the four California schools in the two population centers – Southern California and the Bay Area. Then it’s either the two Arizona schools – with Arizona there more for hoops. Or Washington and Oregon. Either way. There’s your six for the West. If you decide to go with eight in a 16-team league, you take them all.
Texas and Oklahoma are the Big 12 anchors, obviously. You’ll probably have to take Oklahoma State and Texas Tech with them to please the state legislatures. Then it’s flip-a-coin time. TCU comes in for Dallas-Ft. Worth. That’s five. Does Baylor make six? Couldn’t make that call right now.
One idea we might consider would be ex-Big-Eight member Colorado as an East team so we get the metro Denver TV market for the new league although the Buffs didn’t make any friends on their exit. Do you take Kansas for hoops? That’s a thought.
Hard to see where Kansas State, Iowa State and West Virginia fit here. Maybe since they’ll be in the East, and they have a decent program, you keep the Mountaineers. But Morgantown is a haul from most everywhere.
Anyway, we’ll let the Big 12 sort that out. And sure, the Pac-12 presidents with all four Top 25 academic schools in California – and Washington not far behind – will just have to realize they’re replacing one set of mid-level academic programs for another – except for Texas. But they’re getting paid twice as much for their trouble.
For $25 million a year, you get Utah, Oregon State, Washington State and Colorado. For $50 million, you’ll get TCU, Okie State, Texas Tech and Kansas. We’ll take the $50 million.
And for all the sports, you essentially play division schedules. In football, that would mean three teams from the other division alternating between two at home one year, two on the road the next depending on how your own division schedule breaks down. Getting Texas, Oklahoma, TCU and maybe a Baylor in a regular rotation with the holdover Pac-12 teams would mean mostly really interesting games for the TV folks -- and the fans.
In basketball and every other sport, you’d mostly be talking about division play and then a big-time tournament alternating from East to West on a sport-by-sport basis.
But tying Texas and California together for TV, and pulling in as many as seven other states, is maybe the only way to go to keep up with the top tier in college sports.
And if you don’t want to wait, can’t afford really to do so, until 2024-25, then what? Is there any out here since the deal the Pac-12 schools signed originally assigned all their TV rights to the league for 12 years? How do you get out of that?
Well, we’ll answer your question with one of our own. If six or eight of the Pac-12 schools decide to move on, what exactly is the Pac-12? Or who? Who owns whose rights then?
Not a lawyer here. Have no idea exactly how this might all work out but we doubt Larry Scott gets to keep depositing those TV checks if half or more of his schools have left the league.
Or maybe they’ve taken it with them.
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