When the Pac-12 announced its new multimedia broadcast deal with ESPN and Fox recently, the sports world reacted with shock and awe toward its gold fingered Commissioner Larry Scott, who convinced the networks to collectively cough up $3 billion over the next 12 years.
Many observers accurately pointed out that the new deal was more lucrative than those recently signed by both the Big 12 and SEC, two conferences that are perceived as being more attractive conferences for college sports. An impressive feat.
Then there was another fact that was largely missed. The $225 million annual value of the Pac-12 contract was also more lucrative than the deal signed by the National Hockey League last month. That agreement saw the NHL nab $200 million per year through its 10-year agreement with NBC. At the time, that total seemed light for a sport that claims it is one of the four majors. Now it seems even measlier following the Pac-12 deal.
The primary reason NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman expanded the league into so many untraditional hockey cities was to secure lucrative broadcasting deals by having a national footprint in more major markets. So much for that plan, as the Pac-12 bested them despite being a regional league with powerhouse markets such as Pullman, Washington, Corvallis, Oregon and Boulder, Colorado.
Then there are the partners themselves. The Pac-12 is working with industry leaders in ESPN and Fox Sports. Both brands offer widespread coverage through their networks, web sites and numerous other media platforms. ESPN is the place to go for sports information, especially if you are one of their partners. We’ve seen how the NHL has been treated by the “mother ship” to borrow the term from Dan Patrick, since their divorce.
Meanwhile, the NHL is partnered with NBC, a company that was recently sold and is playing catch up. Plus, their primary property for airing NHL games is on Versus, as it is known for a little while longer. Being on a network doesn’t carry quite the same cache as it did in the past. The difference in reach isn’t what it used to be. Besides, NBC only airs one game per week and not until January.
While ESPN, and FOX for the most part, is parked in the heart of most carriers’ sports tiers, Versus is way down the dial, parked somewhere near the horse racing network and the Spanish channel that always seems to be airing lucha libre wrestling. Even the Tennis Channel is among those in the first tier of sports channels and no male sports fan watches that channel unless there is an attractive or grunting woman playing in a match.
Granted, the NHL also generates rights revenue from Canadian and other International agreements but we are comparing apples to apples here in terms of U.S. broadcasting rights deals. And when you look at it that way, there is no doubt that revenue wise, the new deal for the Pac-12 was a touchdown.