League's huge TV deal means greater exposure for Utes
Conference commissioner Larry Scott says the teams that are about to make up the Pac-12 had "fallen behind" because of an antiquated television contract. Football coach Mike Stoops of Arizona says they were "undervalued," while Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens says the league has been "way underexposed."
But, man, they have noooo idea.
Undervalued and underexposed is what the Utah Utes will tell you they have been, in an even more tangible and punishing way, while operating in a lesser league with a television arrangement that while innovative felt to fans a lot more like an aggravating game of hide-and-seek.
"Our games were on, but most people across the country couldn't see them," athletic director Chris Hill said.
So while the rest of the Pac-12 has been thrilled that their new $3 billion television deal with ESPN and Fox Sports will provide the money and exposure to compete with their biggest rivals in the SEC and Big Ten, the Utes are over the moon about the idea that they will not only enjoy a piece of all that once they officially join the league July 1, but they also have a ubiquitous broadcast home where fans all across the country will actually be able to find them.
"The exposure is just gigantic," Hill said. "This is a big, big deal."
As opposed to, you know â¦ the Mtn.
The Mountain West Conference's groundbreaking television college sports network served as the model for all those that have followed including the one the Pac-12 plans to develop in the coming months that Scott believes can add $1 billion to the piles of money the league will receive from its record-setting cable deal with ESPN and Fox Sports.
But the Mtn. was plagued from the beginning with distribution problems in its sparsely populated footprint and quickly became a bÃªte noire among fans who strained to find it and partner stations Versus and CBS College Sports now CBS Sports Network on their cable and satellite systems.
What's more, the Mtn. was only marginally available beyond the Intermountain Region, rendering the Utes all but invisible on the national stage.
It was so bad that some college football poll voters told ESPN that they had never seen the Utes play during their undefeated season in 2008 when those same voters helped deliver LSU and Ohio State to the Bowl Championship Series title game despite having lost three games combined. Two years later, half the country could not watch the No. 5 Utes play No. 3 TCU because the game was on CBS College Sports.
All that is about to change, though.
"It's huge for Utah," said Burke Magnus, ESPN's senior vice president of college sports programming. "They're going to be very, very widely distributed. That will be a sharp contrast to what they've been living through."
The new 12-year deal with ESPN and Fox doesn't begin until 2012-13, but already, the Utes' new affiliation with the Pac-12 has delivered two football games on national television next season in addition to the rivalry game with Brigham Young University that already had been scheduled on ESPN2 and the opportunity for more if the networks want them.
What's more, the new deal will deliver an estimated $250 million a year to the Pac-12, or about $21 million a year for each school, on average, though the Utes won't fully share in the distribution for three years.
Still, even their initial half-share payout of perhaps $10 million in 2012-13 will be far more than the $1.2 million the Utes received annually from their television deal in the Mountain West.
"This is going to be the biggest thing that's ever happened to the Utes," said former BYU quarterback Steve Young, now a broadcaster for ESPN.
Arizona State athletic director Lisa Love said the benefits of the increased exposure will go "on and on and on" for teams in the league from boosting recruiting in parts of the country where Pac-10 games were seldom seen on television to helping pay for improvements to facilities on campus.
"I don't think you can even comprehend some of the far-reaching benefits that the whole thing brings about," said Utah men's basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak.
Certainly, basketball stands to enjoy much greater exposure than before, too.
ESPN will broadcast Pac-12 games regularly for the first time, and Magnus said that was a "significant" part of the new deal and that teams will enjoy a "huge presence" on the networks. Last season, the Utes appeared on Versus twice, CBS College Sports twice and a dozen times on the Mtn. whose "national telecasts" were available in less than 10 percent of the nation's households.
"That hasn't made recruiting any easier," Hill said.
The same goes for football ratings.
Cal football coach Jeff Tedford said increased exposure for the league could lead to better rankings in national polls and greater forgiveness from voters if by virtue of being able to see more games they begin to perceive the league to be as powerful as others such as the SEC.
"This conference was looked at as a one- or two-team conference for a long time," he said. "If people can learn more about it and understand that each week is very competitive," that could change.
While the Utes had grown accustomed to advising their fans (and hearing their complaints) on which little-known network would be showing their football games each week, the truth is that almost all their games were televised somewhere.
The difference now is that many more fans will have access to, and familiarity with, the networks that will televise every Pac-12 football game from ABC and the ESPN family of channels to Fox Sports and FX.
What's more, the forthcoming Pac-12 Network is expected to televise some football games, along with most of the men's and women's basketball games and another 200 games in the Olympic sports.
Distribution doesn't figure to be as much of a problem as it was for the Mtn., either, judging by the demand for Pac-12 sports, as evidenced by the soaring price for the ESPN/Fox deal. Many view the Big Ten Network as a good measuring stick. It launched in 2007 in 30 million homes mostly on cable systems in the Midwest and on the DirecTV and Dish Network satellite services and now reaches 75 million homes in the United States and Canada.
"I can tell you this, based on offers people have made to us, we've got at least a billion-dollar business we're sitting on" with the Pac-12 Network, Scott told CBSSports .com recently. "That's a potential minimum value over a seven- to 10 year period."
The Pac-12 Network would be part of the Pac-12 Media Enterprises company, which will also include the league's digital rights, licensing and sponsorship deals. If Scott's prediction is correct, the league's schools could each enjoy about $8 million to $12 million more per year, depending on the length of the new deal.
All which will be a huge benefit to the Utes.
"The money's always going to help and help us run a good program," Hill said. "But I think the visibility that our university and our city is going to get, it's going to change a lot of things. â¦ There's a light at the end of the tunnel, and it's not an oncoming train. It's all blue sky."
In the big time
The Pac-12 Conference has many more teams in the nation's biggest television markets than the Mountain West Conference:
No. 2 • Los Angeles
No. 6 • San Francisco
No. 12 • Phoenix
No. 13 • Seattle
No. 17 • Denver
No. 22 • Portland
No. 32 • Salt Lake City
Mountain West Conference
No. 5 • Dallas*
No. 17 • Denver
*Until TCU leaves the league in 2012.