ACC and Pac-12 officials are discussing a broadcast partnership with ESPN that would bring the two Power 5 leagues from opposite shores together for a mutually beneficial relationship, sources say sports illustrated.
The proposal, which is still in its infancy, heavily affects ESPN’s own ACC network. Under the plan, the ACC network — or a rebranded entity combining the two leagues — will have exclusive rights to broadcast Pac-12 games to West Coast homes via ESPN cable providers. The deal is not a merger or consolidation of the leagues, but is instead based on a media rights agreement with the world’s leading sports provider — an attempt to repay the loss of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten by Pac-12.
While the move together could include marquee-nonconference matchups from the West and East Coasts — think Clemson-Washington or Miami-Oregon — the primary reason for the partnership is TV ownership. This would replace the failed Pac-12 network with a reliable provider that can reach millions of homes in the west.
All those involved could benefit from the possible agreement: the ACC is expected to receive long-awaited additional television income; ESPN Receives a Piece of Pac-12 Inventory; and the Pac-12 presumably remains intact, with its 10 remaining members receiving an attractive TV arrangement. It could also be a more desirable alternative for Pac-12 schools than joining the Big 12. At least one Pac-12 source has denied reports of “serious” talks between some remaining schools and the Big 12.
However, those briefed on the ACC Pac-12 proposal believe there are many hurdles to clear and details to iron out before it becomes a reality. This should be a more long-term and conscious decision that could take weeks, if not months, to correct, one administrator says. The key question: Does the arrangement generate enough additional revenue to make it worthwhile?
An administrator with knowledge of the discussions said ACC athletic directors first heard about the idea during a conference call on Friday. “It’s something worth exploring, but no details have been put behind it,” the admin said. “The general response was, ‘Give us more [specificity].'”
In a way, the proposal is an extension of the Pac-12 and ACC’s so-called alliance with the Big Ten, a non-binding agreement announced last year that should aim to prevent further expansion among the Power 5 in response to the The SEC took over Texas and Oklahoma in 2021, but it exploded spectacularly when the Big Ten raided the Pac-12.
In response, ACC and Pac-12 are struggling to maintain their relevance in a market where their two biggest rival leagues — already the wealthiest in collegiate sports — have risen significantly in value. ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips and Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff, who are relatively new to their jobs, have a good working relationship and are exploring ways to work together, sources said.
For the Pac-12, the partnership may be the best possible solution for retaining its remaining members, but is it worth it for the ACC? It’s unclear how much additional revenue the league would generate from such a move. However, given the ACC’s long-term TV contract, extra dollars are a plus. It is estimated that ACC members receive far less media rights revenue than the new deals of their Big Ten and SEC competitors. The ACC is committed to the deal until 2036.
The new partnership with the Pac-12 may not reopen the contract, but it will change the bottom line. That could be the ACC’s best option, as a full contract renegotiation could open a path for the league’s most valuable properties — North Carolina, Clemson, Florida State, Miami and Virginia — to consider exiting. As it stands, escaping the ACC’s rights granting business could be both costly and complicated.
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ESPN would get a foothold on the West Coast and ensure it holds substantial rights to three of the five Power 5 leagues after Fox took a stranglehold on the Big Ten (the network is said to own at least 60% of the Big Ten). new TV deal). ESPN is expected to be instrumental in Pac-12’s negotiations for a new media rights deal, but the product has been marred by the loss of the Los Angeles market. This agreement could be a way for ESPN to get more out of an agreement with the Pac-12.
Meanwhile, Kliavkoff works to keep his 10 schools from being poached by a new colleague. Brand new Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark has been aggressive in pursuing the remaining Pac-12 programs. The Big 12 specifically targets the remaining four from the Pac-12 South: Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado. The nature of this pursuit is unclear, as is the interest these schools have in a move. With sources suggesting that Oregon and Washington don’t have a clear and imminent path to the Big Ten, those schools may choose to remain in the Pac-12 — which in turn could improve Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah’s chances of stay there the league.
For Kliavkoff, the potential partnership with the ACC would exude strength at a time when Pac-12 is weak and guarantee something the Big 12 can’t — a regional television partner. The Pac-12 would snag a lifeline from the ACC while the Big 12 attacks their membership.
Ironically, it comes almost a year after Pac-12 and ACC decided against picking teams from the Big 12, which at the time were being pushed to the SEC after losing their two biggest brands, Oklahoma and Texas. The Pac-12 and ACC also declined to partner with the Big 12 a year ago, prompting the conference to add four new members in Houston, BYU, Cincinnati and UCF and leading to more dominoes from the group of 5 in a wave of conferences fell conference realignment. The next wave is here, sparked by last week’s stunning news that USC and UCLA are moving to the Big Ten.
Meanwhile, many college athletes’ eyes are on the independent Notre Dame. Will the Irish finally be promoted to a league full-time? And will this conference be the Big Ten? A source familiar with Notre Dame thinking recently told SI, “Independence remains the preference and leader in the clubhouse.” Washington and Oregon also remain attractive brands for the Big Ten, but their destiny could be based on the decision to be determined by Notre Dame – and the Fighting Irish don’t feel compelled to rush it.
“It’s all about the money here,” says a Pac-12 officer. “The SEC has most of it and the Big Ten has the second largest of it and the ACC is stuck in a sub-optimal deal. And the Pac-10 — we gotta call him Pac-10 now — finds out what our new TV deal is, and the Big 12, it seems, are after us.”
All of these potential moves are driven by money. Each conference expansion means TV money is split in more ways. Therefore, each additional school must bring significant value to a league to make it financially worthwhile.
Do the Big 12 really see value in adding four or six schools from the West? Does the ACC think it’s valuable enough to agree to a media partnership with Pac-12? And does Notre Dame see the value in joining a league? These questions come at one of the most uncertain and chaotic times in recent collegiate athletics history.
The cogs that drive every decision are obvious, says one prominent sports administrator: “It all comes down to the dollars.”
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