Opinion: Unpacking Latest On Pac-12 Media Rights Negotiations

May 9, 2023, 3:30 PM | Updated: 3:38 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – It’s been a while since I last addressed the topic of the ongoing Pac-12 media rights negotiations. From my perspective, not much has changed.

However, a handful of interesting rumors have come up lately making it seem like a good time to dive in once more and discuss what is being said and how that corresponds to things I’ve heard.

I want to make clear this is my takeaway based on educated leanings from the past several months. It should also be noted my circle is mainly focused around the University of Utah but does have some reach into the Pac-12 and national scene as well.

Where Is The Deal?

We all want immediate answers. When immediate answers aren’t available, we start to panic and latch onto anything that could possibly be an answer whether it actually is or not. That’s just human nature.

I noted last time that the Pac-12 has dabbled in some fairly uncharted territory when it comes to sports broadcasting and streaming.

Unlike your traditional linear TV that already has a precedent that makes contracts fairly easy to negotiate, streaming is a new frontier with no set precedent. This leaves room for more back and forth with lawyers, negotiating terms, etc. which takes a while to sort through.

It has been my belief for a while that the Pac-12 has a pretty good idea of where they stand and that hasn’t changed in months. That belief was recently solidified this past week by someone on the national television level, and another source from the Utah level- neither of which would know each other, making it compelling to hear the same thing twice from two different places. It is my belief that negotiating the finer details of the contract has been the reason for the hold-up when it comes to an announcement.

As Utah Athletic Director Mark Harlan said a little over a week ago on The Saturday Show on KSL Sports Zone.

“We all want this deal done. I do believe we are getting to that final time, but I’ve probably said that a few other times, but we aren’t going to take any deal. We’re going to take a good deal.”


There may be another bit of a snag in the Pac-12 announcing their deal according to Washington State President Kirk Schulz last week. President Schulz spoke of the sensitive optics of announcing a major television deal worth millions of dollars while network(s) are currently laying off employees.

“I think it’s just the environment. It’s the uncertainty in the economy, the layoffs in the tech sector and other places. I know at least one of the partners we were talking to said, ‘We’re ready to sign today, but the optics of us announcing that we’re laying off X number of people and we signed a multimillion-dollar deal with the Pac-12 are just not the best, so we’re going to have to wait six weeks.'”

Let’s Talk About The “Timeline”

Since the Pac-12 took their rights to market there has been a lot of talk about them being “on the clock” or having a “tight timeline” in order to get a deal done. “Time is running out…”

According to sources that have worked in the tv sphere and know a bit about negotiating these kinds of contracts, the Pac-12 has up until next year when the old contract expires. I was also told that likely means the conference wouldn’t have started the negotiating process until about now if they hadn’t opted to start it earlier instead.

So why get a year jump on it? In all honesty, from my perspective, the Pac-12 had/has a couple of bigger things to look into before signing a contract that takes some time to sort through.

We’ve already talked about their desire to explore the world of streaming and why that can take some time. The Pac-12 also needed some time in my estimation to decide what they wanted to do about USC and UCLA leaving. Do they invite replacements? Who would those replacements be?

Obviously, much like signing a tv deal, I don’t believe the Pac-12 would take just anyone to fill open spots in the conference. The due diligence of looking into who is available and what they could bring would take some time to investigate.

Are you sure there isn’t any possibility of a missed opportunity or two?

The honest answer is I’m not sure. None of us aside from those in the negotiating room can really be sure of that. Also, hindsight truly is 20/20. Truthfully, we are all going to have to just let this play out before we find out what was and wasn’t a mistake through this negotiation process. What I do feel pretty confident about is that despite the outside chattering about “time running out”, those on the inside don’t seem terribly concerned about time at the moment.

Is There Concern Of ‘Four Corner’ Schools Leaving?

Quite frankly, anything is possible until a deal is laid out, and the ink dries on the grant of rights from all 10 member schools. You just can never know for sure, and that’s how the people involved in this want it. Rule number one in negotiating is you never lay your hand out before it is ready.

However, in my continued conversations with sources close to Utah and the Pac-12, I still am not getting that vibe and don’t consider it likely at this conjecture. In fact, since I last wrote about the Pac-12 media rights, the so-called “Four Corner” schools who have been the main targets of the defection rumor mill have all publicly refuted the notion they are leaving the Pac-12. Some of them multiple times.

Could they be bluffing? Again, anything is possible, but at this point we are talking about a lot of high-ranking officials from several different schools on the books saying they are invested in the Pac-12. It would be pretty remarkable that so many people would stick their neck out there only to turn out to be lying.

Academics Matter In These Negotiations. A Lot.

In the same vein as the Big Ten and ACC Conferences, the Pac-12 greatly values their academic prowess and how they all work together as a conference on the research front. This can’t be stated enough because it’s a huge motivation for the remaining 10 schools to stay together.

Academics and the research grants they provide, give the conference and their member schools a nice chunk of change, more so than any TV deal for sports ever will. This vast intellectual infrastructure the Pac-12 has with each other is a very important piece of this puzzle, and despite what others on the outside want to believe, it does move the needle for those in the negotiating room.

For example, the University of Utah has seen a $171 million growth from 2018 to 2022 in research dollars brought in. According to this article from the University of Utah, the school reached $686 million in research dollars in the fiscal year 2022 and continues to see growth in that arena due to its connection to the Pac-12 and the other AAU schools associated with the conference. That number makes the alleged $28-$35 million of a potential television deal look like peanuts and that is just one school in the conference.

For the record, Washington and Stanford currently bring in over a billion dollars each in research and development to the Pac-12 with other members starting to close in on that mark.

Call it pretentious, or snobby if you like, but regardless of how you feel about that stance, this is something the conference and its presidents who make the decisions about the future value above all else meaning it will continue to be weighed as these negotiations go on. No one is going to jump ship solely based on sports and the tv deals they bring alone.

Putting A Bow On This Round Of Discussion

To wrap things up I think it is once again important to acknowledge my sphere of sources on this topic is not exhaustive, and rather focused on one specific school in the Pac-12. I feel good about the information I’ve received thus far, as it seems to be in line with those who can cast a bigger net. I also believe it’s important to note what I’ve heard has not drastically changed in months which tends to be a good indicator the information is on the right track.

I keep emphasizing this point because I think a big disservice has been done to fans with how this topic has been reported over the last (almost) year. I want to be as upfront as possible about the limitations of my information so that you can determine your thoughts on the situation for yourself.

Media negotiations are a tough topic to cover because they are so secretive and for good reason. There are only a select few people who truly know the full scope of what is happening and if huge leaks take place, it’s pretty easy to source the cause, therefore, lips tend to be tight on the matter.

That is why I also feel it is important to continue applying these rules when consuming anything on the topic of this Pac-12 media negotiation:

  1. Who would actually be involved in these discussions?
  2. Are the sources being cited reasonably specific to who would be involved?
  3. Has the messaging/attitude changed from those who would be involved?

Basically, watch closely those who would be involved in the negotiation room and take your cues from them. If they don’t appear to be panicking, you probably shouldn’t either.

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @BodkinKSLsports

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Opinion: Unpacking Latest On Pac-12 Media Rights Negotiations