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Jul. 14—Rick George was consistent and adamant, the Pac-12 Conference's remaining 10 member schools are presenting a unified front amid the loss of USC and UCLA, and at the start of media rights negotiations critical to the league's survival.
Still, without the USC football brand, is what is left of the Pac-12 attractive enough to the networks spraying football dollars all over the country for the league to keep pace with the burgeoning superconferences of the SEC and Big Ten? George thinks so.
During his media session on Wednesday at the Colorado National Golf Club, George was asked that exact question regarding the viability of Pac-12 football in the conference's current configuration. Colorado's athletic director is of the opinion a new media rights deal will start to bridge the gap of a Pac-12 product George believes has been undervalued for years.
"I think our media rights have been undervalued," George said. "When you have a 12-year deal...we're on the back end of that, and you look at where we are, and our two-tier rights are extremely low. Because the Pac-12 Network — you guys have heard me complain about the Pac-12 Network since I've been in the conference for nine years — we're not getting the distribution. So when you look at our Tier 1 rights, and then you look at our Tier 2 rights, we're getting very little in our Tier 2 rights because we've got no distribution on the Pac-12 Networks.
"I think there's tremendous value in our league, because I think we've been under-valued in our Tier 1 rights and our Tier 2 rights. And I think there's a tremendous upside for us as a conference."
As it currently stands, a new media rights deal would now be split between 10 league members instead of 12, although expansion and some sort of merger with another conference like the Big 12 certainly are options that remain on the table. Last week, the Pac-12 announced it would begin negotiations for a new media rights deal. ESPN and Fox, which remain the rights holders for the next two years, hold a 30-day window for exclusive negotiations before the league can explore other options.
George also noted those other options are more abundant than the last time the Pac-12 negotiated a media rights deals, as live sports content has gained a bigger foothold in streaming services like Apple TV, Peacock, and Amazon.
"I think there's a lot of opportunity for us," George said. "I do think there's a lot more bidders today than there was 12 years ago, or even five years ago with Apple, Amazon, NBC, CBS, Turner. There's a lot of different companies in the mix that want this content. Because live college sports is really valuable, and our rights have been undervalued for the last five years, at minimum."
As for possible expansion within the league, George echoed the sentiment that anything is possible in the wake of the loss of the Los Angeles schools.
"I think as we move forward there's a lot of options that are on the table," George said. "And we're going to explore what those are and we're going to do what's best for the conference. Our commissioner and his executive team have been very collaborative with the ADs and we'll continue to have discussions and chart our path for the future."
One revenue stream that has not been utilized is securing a new naming rights deal for the CU Events Center, which has gone without a sponsor since the deal with Coors expired four years ago. George admitted the pandemic and the current conference realignment priority have put those efforts a little on the backburner, but that he expects naming rights negotiations to pick up momentum for several facilities.
"There's three or four areas we need naming partners for," George said. "The Events Center is one. The west side of our football stadium is two. Our football stadium — it's Folsom Field, but our stadium hasn't been named. And we've got an indoor practice facility we want to name. All four of those will be things that will be out there. We hired a new chief revenue officer, Ryan Gottlieb, who is out there actively pursuing that. That's still on the table. We've still got to generate revenue on our own, and we've got somebody that's directing that for us right now."