02 Jul 2022 | 08:35
Fans who have worried about the direction of college sports over the past decade were greeted with some really upsetting news on Thursday: USC and UCLA, longtime members of the Pac-12, left the convention to join the Big Ten.
For traditionalists, this is a pretty nightmarish scenario. Regional, in-state competition is ignored in the name of televised matches. The definition of “student-athlete” blurs further as teams prepare for routine cross-country flights. And, if Pac-12 falls apart after the departure of the Trojans and Bruins, what happens to the Rose Bowl Game?
But traditionalists are no longer power brokers in college sports, are they?
“Those fans are living in the past in the sports business,” said David Carter, founder of Sports Business Group and a professor at USC. “They’re clinging to the rich traditions that came out of this pre-monetary age.”
And money drives everything around college sports, which makes a reorganization of this latest convention inevitable.
Pac-12 schools have been operating at a disadvantage compared to the Big Ten and SEC schools for a long time. With each year, the Pac-12 media rights deal signed under former commissioner Larry Scott looks worse and worse as other conventions provide member schools with tens of millions of dollars more each year.
So a green-blooded football program like USC viewed its peers as inferior in terms of resources and facilities, while UCLA’s athletic division stood out for loan sharking from the university to cover the loss. .
“You can’t bleed tens of millions of dollars a year if you’re UCLA,” Carter said. “You can’t be undervalued like USC athletics. A lot of USC revenue streams have been blocked, tied to the Pac-12 Network.”
But a few years in the Big Ten, actively negotiating its next media rights deal, would erase all woes for USC and UCLA.
Ahead of Thursday’s tectonic shift, Pac-12’s next media deal is expected to bring in between $500 million and $600 million per year, split across 12 members.
Those are not funny numbers. By Thursday, however, the Big Ten’s estimated annual amount is expected to reach if not exceed $1 billion per year.
Now, the Big Ten is in an even stronger position, and not just because of the addition of the Los Angeles market.
As John Ourand of Sports Business Journal explains, there are several networks negotiating with the Big Ten that if all else fails, the Pac-12 is a viable fallback to filling the broadcast inventory. But with the Pac-12 crippled by this departure, the Big Ten is in a stronger position, as evidenced by Ourand . Thursday Report that Apple is back at the negotiating table after adding schools in Los Angeles.
“The gap between nests seems more pronounced than ever,” says Ourand. “In order to make sure they are among the top schools and bring in the most money, they feel like they have to start adjusting themselves to [either the Big Ten or SEC]. “
Even beyond substantial media rights payouts, USC and UCLA can benefit from a branding standpoint.
Universities could, Carter predicts, gain access to more national funding contracts instead of the regional deals associated with the Pac-12 footprint. The inflow of cash can lead to improved facilities and more efficient recruitment efforts.
If this leads to more competition nationally, you can expect growing donations from alumni and applications from prospective students.
“It’s kind of a shock to everyone’s system that their universities are doing what so many people used to have, which is figuring out how to build a national brand,” Carter said. speak. “When you hear about a lot of this conference rearrangement, you often hear that it is in the best interests of the student-athletes. No, it’s not. That is in the best interests of the sports department. “
This may cause some fans to give up and walk away, frustrated by the loss of their amateurish and traditional feel – but not enough to stop schools like USC and UCLA from making this kind of decision.
“It doesn’t seem like anything really alienates fans like the way the hand-wringing indicates it’s going to be for years,” Carter said. “The commercialization of the match, the name, the image and the likeness is increasing. Everything is apocalyptic, but it really isn’t. As for the acid test, is the money still flowing in and is it increasing? “.
In two years, Trojans and Bruins will be able to answer that question in the affirmative.