The true measure of commissioner Larry Scott's bold attempt to reshape the Pac-12 the past 12 months has always been whether it would lead to a lucrative new TV contract for the conference this spring.
Based on a New York Times report on Tuesday morning, it's safe to say Scott succeeded.
Scott told the Times the Pac-12 has agreed to a 12-year media rights deal with ESPN and FOX worth about $250 million per year, the richest contract ever for a college conference and a huge coup for a league that has lagged behind its BCS-affiliated peers in recent years. The Pac-12 will also launch its own cable network in 2012 but will sell most of its football and basketball games to FOX and ESPN.
Although the conference surely could have gotten even more money had Scott managed to lure Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12, the $21 million each Pac-12 school will receive is more than double what they get under the current contract. By comparison, the TV rights deal the ACC signed last year was for only $155 million per year.
The timing of the Pac-12's current contract expiring provided the league the leverage it needed to ratchet up the price of its new deal.
Because the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC have all negotiated new contracts very recently, that left the Pac-12 in a position of power taking bids from three networks. ESPN carries by far the most college sports, Comcast wants to raise the profile of its newly revamped Versus network and FOX intends to remain viable in college sports despite losing its BCS Bowl rights.
It's unclear how many Pac-12 football and basketball games ESPN will carry, but the network's involvement at all is a pleasant surprise to West Coast fans. Pac-12 fans have long complained the conference suffered from a lack of exposure because ESPN didn't carry its games, a problem exacerbated by the limited, inconsistent national coverage FOX's regional carriers provide.
The domestic TV deal is the most important element in Scott's plan to reshape a league that had fallen behind the times under previous commissioner Tom Hansen.
Scott nearly lured Texas and Oklahoma away from the Big 12 last summer before settling for Colorado and Oklahoma. He also began rebranding the Pac-12 last July with the release of a new logo, the launch of a new website and the start of a marketing blitz designed to familiarize East Coast fans and media with the conference.
The next phase of the transformation will include the launch of a Pac-12 TV network next year and the exploration of the possibility of airing Pac-12 games in Asia and throughout the Pacific rim.