Pacific-12 commissioner Larry Scott on Wednesday announced the launch of the athletic conference’s own television unit, a suite that will include a national cable TV network and a half-dozen regional sports networks.
The Pac-12 Networks will roll out in August 2012, immediately before the start of the academic year.
The national cable property will carry a full roster of 350 live sporting events, including every football and men’s basketball game that isn’t already being offered by ABC Sports/ESPN and Fox Sports. That works out to around 35 football and 100 basketball telecasts per year.
Also in the lineup are women’s basketball, spring football, and Olympic sports.
In order to clear the way to pick up those games not covered by ESPN or Fox, the Pac-12 will pay current local media rights owners a grand total of around $18 million, or about $1.5 million per school. Previously, rights holders like IMG College have taken advantage of unclaimed games by telecasting them locally or offering them on a pay-per-view platform.
Scott said the RSNs will service the conference’s endemic markets: Washington, Oregon, Northern California, Southern California, Arizona, and the “Mountain” region. The latter was carved out to make room for recent newcomers the University of Colorado Buffaloes and the University of Utah Utes.
All told, the RSNs are expected to carry around 500 live events per year. Programming will extend beyond athletics to other subjects of interest to students, faculty, and alumni, and will be tailored to the needs of each individual region.
Distribution will be handled by four major cable operators: Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, and Bright House Networks. Scott anticipates that the Pac-12 will be able to sign other MSOs in the near future.
Along with linear carriage, the four cable operators will implement full “TV everywhere” accessibility, allowing subscribers to view the Pac-12 networks outside their homes via tablets and smartphones.
The Pac-12’s move to kick off its proprietary TV operation comes just months after Scott closed a $3 billion, 12-year rights deal with Fox and ESPN—the most lucrative conference rights package in history. Under the terms of that megadeal, the Pac-12’s marquee football games—schools represented include national championship contenders Oregon and Stanford—will air on ABC and Fox through 2025. ESPN and its spin-off nets will also carry Pac-12 gridiron action, as will Fox’s cable cousin, FX.
Live men’s basketball games will air on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and Fox Sports Net.
Unlike the Big Ten Conference, which launched its own network in 2007, the Pac-12 will retain full ownership of its TV properties. (Fox Entertainment Group owns a 49 percent stake in the Big Ten channel.)
The announcement effectively rules out any chance the University of Texas might be joining the Pac-12 in the event of the dissolution its own conference, the Big 12. The Burnt Orange big daddy has its own TV venture in the works and is on target to launch the Longhorn Network next month.
In January, ESPN said it would devote $300 million over the next 20 years to help develop the Longhorn Network; given that the sports giant owns the media property outright, that annual investment of $15 million is essentially a rights fee.