Scott D. Pierce: BYU helped WCC; Utah didn't help Pac-12 much
The addition of Utah to the Pac-12 didn't really make a big difference to ESPN when the worldwide leader in sports pursued a TV contract with the conference. The addition of BYU to the West Coast Conference did make a big difference.
But it's all in the company you keep.
"I'm not sure [Pac-12] expansion was a huge component of the conversation," said Burke Magnus, ESPN's senior vice president of college sports programming. Of course, it did add a football championship game. And it "spreads the geographic footprint" of the league, which is "always a good thing for a conference."
"But it wasn't a fundamental component of the conversation because they were already a premiere league to begin with. I think there would have been an aggressive bidding process, even if it had been the old Pac-10."
ESPN teamed up with Fox on a 12-year, $3 billion deal to outbid NBC/Comcast.
The addition of BYU to the WCC was, while not a deal-maker, certainly a deal-enhancer. The new eight-year contract the league just signed upped the number of appearances WCC teams will make on ESPN networks from 38 to 48 per season.
"It's a big deal and BYU had a lot to do with that," Magnus said.
(Each time a WCC team is on TV counts as one appearance. A nonleague game is one appearance; a league game counts as two appearances.)
"The WCC is a great basketball league," Magnus said. "They even recently got out of the dynamic where it was Gonzaga and the other guys. They become a very deep and interesting league.
"And BYU adds [to] the mix."
But it's not like ESPN signed the West Coast Conference because of the Cougars.
"We've been in business with those guys for a long time," Magnus said. "We would have done a deal with them without BYU, no question. But adding BYU to it made it more attractive."
When it comes to name-recognition, however, the only current WCC member that really has any is Gonzaga. That's not a knock on Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, Portland, St. Mary's, San Diego, San Francisco or Santa Clara. It's not a prediction about how BYU will fare against them on the basketball court. But name recognition does help when it comes to TV contracts.
That's why Notre Dame football still has its big deal with NBC despite going just 69-59 over the past 10 seasons.
BYU adds a nationally recognized name to a conference that isn't filled with them. Which is why the Cougars made a big difference.
Utah, on the other hand, is joining a league filled with high-profile teams. There might be more fans across the country who'd tune in to watch Southern California or UCLA than the eight current members of the WCC combined.
And when you consider the rest of the league consists of Cal, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State, Arizona and Arizona State, adding Utah and Colorado to the Pac-12 doesn't have quite the same relative impact as adding BYU to the WCC.
The fact is that both BYU and Utah are going to be in much better places in terms of TV exposure. Ute and Cougar fans will argue about that it's what they do but they can all agree on one thing.
Leaving the Mountain West Conference behind was a great idea for both schools.
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. His sports on TV column runs Wednesdays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce; read his blog at sltrib.com/blogs/tv.
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