For the first time, the conference will erect billboards in Times Square and other East Coast locations and make its top football players and coaches available for interviews in New York City and at the ESPN studios in Bristol, Conn. Expect a similar but scaled down campaign when basketball season arrives in a few months.
The increased emphasis on raising the Pac-10's profile is all part of new commissioner Larry Scott's efforts to eradicate the conference's stodgy reputation and put it in the best possible position before he negotiates a new TV contract next year. The Pac-10's current deal lags well behind other BCS conferences at less than half the value of the ACC's new deal and less than a third of the SEC and Big Ten.
Scott, who had no previous experience in college sports when the Pac-10 plucked him from the Women's Tennis Association last year, has already proven to be a bold and savvy leader. He nearly stole Texas and Oklahoma and ushered in a new era of super-conferences in college athletics before Dan Beebe's 11th-hour negotiations with TV networks gave the Big 12 a reprieve.
The next phase of the Pac-10's transformation figures to include the launch of its own TV network similar to what the Big Ten created three years ago. The New York Times reports that the Pac-10 also will be more flexible in putting its football and basketball games in earlier time slots in order to showcase their top teams to East Coast fans.
It will be interesting to see whether the conference makes a concerted effort to trade the anonymity of Fox Sports for the omnipresence of ESPN when it comes time for Scott to negotiate a new TV deal next year. FSN provides the conference with more money, better time slots and broadcast crews more familiar with West Coast teams, but its regional carriers offer limited, inconsistent national coverage and don't come close to matching ESPN in terms of national exposure.
Ultimately Scott's rebranding plan will be judged on one thing: Money.
If he negotiates a lucrative new TV deal next year that approaches or surpasses the $155 million one the ACC received this year, then this was a success. If not, the glossy new logo and chic new website will have been all for naught.
- Larry Scott