As the Pac-12’s pursuit of a media rights contract enters its third month with no end in sight, the Amazon option lingers.
Combine the initial success of the company’s ‘Thursday Night Football’ broadcasts with the Pac-12’s need for competition at the negotiating table, and a courtship makes perfect sense.
But the Hotline isn’t convinced the Pac-12 should limit itself to a media rights deal.
It should consider going all in with Amazon.
Why not partner with Amazon on all business opportunities across the 10 campuses, from food services to cloud storage to merchandise sales to event sponsorships to executive travel to driverless cars.
Don’t gaze at the future. Walk down the aisle with it.
Yes, it’s a radical plan. But the Hotline is comfortable outside the box; in fact, that’s our preferred location.
In the past, we have proposed playing football games at 9 a.m. and scheduling doubleheaders on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. We suggested using Bill Walton as a second commentator on football broadcasts. Three years ago, we made the case for an alliance with the Big 12.
The whole process took five-to-seven business days.
Effectively, the Amazon Partnership Plan would bind the Pac-12 to one of the world’s most innovative and sprawling companies — one that’s located in a Pac-12 city and filled with Pac-12 graduates and, like Apple, depends so heavily on the same tech-savvy, educated, affluent West Coast population that fuels enrollment across the Pac-12 footprint.
Let’s start with the media rights component.
From our vantage point, the Pac-12 has a competition problem. It’s clear ESPN wants to maintain a relationship with the conference. (Fox might, as well.) But are other media companies interested enough to drive up the price? That remains to be seen — it’s the $500 million question.
Meanwhile, Amazon has entered the live sports space. It reportedly paid $1 billion annually to the NFL for exclusive rights to broadcast ‘Thursday Night Football’ and made a serious bid for part of the Big Ten’s football package.
But does the Pac-12, stripped of its biggest market (Los Angeles) and biggest brand (USC), possess enough quality content to bring Amazon to the table with its checkbook in hand?
That’s where the Amazon Partnership Plan comes into play.
Unlike ESPN and Fox, Amazon isn’t a media company. So why should the Pac-12 limit itself to a media deal?
Amazon is a technology company and an online retailer and a business-to-consumer service and a media company — it’s all that and more. The Pac-12’s partnership should reflect that product diversity.
Start by selling the broadcast rights to all sporting events to Amazon, which would then sell packages of games to traditional broadcasters like ESPN and Fox.
Amazon would retain a chunk of the Pac-12 inventory for streaming on Prime and use the Pac-12 Networks’ cutting-edge equipment to produce the events, just as NBC actually handles the production for Amazon for ‘Thursday Night Football.’
Why would Amazon want to own the rights to every Pac-12 football game?
Because it wants to use football as a freeway to your wallet. It wants to show you football and sell you toilet paper. And there are no wallets it enjoys more than those along the West Coast, from Seattle to Portland to the Bay Area. The heart of the reconfigured Pac-12 is Amazon’s e-commerce wheelhouse.
Amazon could become the lead sponsor for every Pac-12 event (“The Pac-12 Football Championship Game presented by Amazon”) with its logo on every venue.
It could serve as the primary ticket broker for all Pac-12 sporting events and any concert held on a conference campus.
It could provide aircraft for every team.
Also, Amazon undoubtedly sees the enormous potential of sports wagering.
The next iteration of the gaming marketplace, which is coming not in a few decades but a few years, will feature an interface that allows fans to watch football in real time with betting opportunities appearing on the screen.
With their credit card already entered into the system, viewers will be one click away from making a proposition bet on the outcome of the very next play. Run or pass, touchdown or turnover. There will be no latency and no limit, except what your credit card allows.
If Amazon owns the Pac-12’s data rights, the potential revenue from sports wagering on every big screen throughout the conference footprint would be enormous.
Also enormous: Amazon’s increased entrenchment in every home, every wallet and every bank account, with its AI technology leading the way.
With the Amazon Partnership Plan, the dollar figure attached to any Pac-12 media rights deal becomes secondary.
Give Amazon equity in the conference, and it would be motivated to ensure the Pac-12 thrives. What it didn’t own, it would buy. What it couldn’t buy, it would create — perhaps with the help of R&D consortiums across the Pac-12 engineering schools.
You sign media deals with media companies.
You sign all-in deals with everything companies.
And therein lies the true value of the Amazon Partnership Plan (APP): The limitless business opportunities across the 10 campuses.
Put an Alexa in every dorm room and provide IT services for every student. Between drone deliveries and Amazon blue-and-grey trucks, every service imaginable would be available for students and staff across the campus.
Every mobile phone on campus would have an app for the APP.
Now, this proposal is sure to confuse many, offend some and raise myriad questions. The first is whether our plan is even possible. Every school has existing contracts for food services, for example. So the Pac-12 and Amazon would either need to buy out the existing deals or wait for them to expire in two years, four years, whatever.
And we should acknowledge the potential for political pushback at the state level. In some cases, deals might not be practical or could be delayed indefinitely.
But the possibilities are enormous:
— Amazon could handle food services for the campuses and sporting events, perhaps through a subsidiary of Whole Foods.
— Amazon Web Services could provide cloud computing support for every academic department.
— Amazon’s e-commerce arm could sell all university merchandise (backpacks, hoodies, jerseys) both online and through traditional bookstores on campus.
— Amazon’s Ring home security could protect every door.
— Amazon’s driverless car subsidiary, Zook, could provide transportation for every drunk student in need of a ride home from the bars and parties.
— Amazon’s video service, Twitch, could stream live campus events — both sporting and otherwise — and perhaps partner with the Pac-12 on e-sports opportunities.
Essentially, Amazon would have the credit card for every student, professor and staff member on every campus in the conference — a conference that, oh-by-the-way, draws from all over the world.
And the company would retain that connection, one based on its AI technology, long after every student has graduated.
It’s a radical idea, sure. And there would be a risk for the Pac-12. Heck, going all-in with Amazon simply for football media rights constitutes a significant risk. But the Amazon Partnership Plan carries gargantuan upside for both sides.
(For one thing, Washington, which just partnered with Amazon to launch a ‘Science Hub,’ wouldn’t leave for the Big Ten.)
It’s a marriage proposal that would propel every campus into the future with the company set to own the future.
And for just the right price, perhaps the Pac-12 could become the Amazon-12.
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