Time for the Pac-12 to gauge interest from Amazon and Apple: Exclusive negotiating window closes; conference hits the open market eyeing big dollars, array of partners

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The Pac-12’s media rights negotiations have entered a crucial new phase that will shape the future of the conference.

The exclusive negotiating window with ESPN and Fox has concluded without an extension of the current agreements, according to an industry source.

The development allows the Pac-12 to take the entirety of its football and men’s basketball inventory to the open market to solicit bids from other media companies and potentially drive up the price, a process that could take several months.

According to sources, the open-market negotiations are expected to include at least one major digital player (Amazon or Apple) along with the Pac-12’s current partners, ESPN and Fox, and possibly others.

With all the rights now available to any interested media company, the Pac-12 can create packages of inventory and craft agreements with a variety of partners, therefore driving up the total value of its rights package.

“The Pac-12 is going to be fine,” a second industry source said. “Are they going to make all the money they want? I don’t know. But if they don’t, they won’t be far off.”

The Sports Business Journal on Friday was the first to report the end of the exclusive window.

When that window began remains a mystery.

On July 5, less than a week after USC and UCLA accepted invitations to join the Big Ten, the Pac-12 presidents authorized commissioner Georgia Kliavkoff to begin negotiating a new media deal for the contract cycle beginning in the summer of 2024.

As the existing rights-holders, ESPN and Fox were entitled to an exclusive negotiating period. But no specifics were given, either for the start of the exclusive window or its duration.

Many presumed that a 30-day period began soon after the presidents gave their consent. And in that case, it would have expired sometime in August.

However, if the start was delayed until late August — after the Big Ten concluded its media rights agreement — or if the window lasted longer than 30 days, then this later-than-expected closing would make sense.

The lack of a deal suggests ESPN and Fox did not make the Pac-12 an offer it couldn’t refuse.

At the same time, the development could be favorable for the conference if a third party (or a fourth) has serious interest in forging an agreement.

Those details are not publicly known. However, the Pac-12 likely understands the level of market interest in its inventory because of the unique nature of the media contracts.

The exclusive negotiating window pertains to the rights held by a specific network. In other words, ESPN and Fox could only make an offer for what they currently own (about 22 games each).

However, the 36 games on the Pac-12 Networks, which are wholly owned by the conference, were not protected by any agreement with ESPN and Fox.

Kliavkoff and his advisors have been at liberty to conduct formal negotiations (i.e., dollars and cents) for that package of games with any interested media entity. That process could have informed a broader strategy for the conference to pursue.

With the 44 regular-season games owned by ESPN and Fox now available on the open market — in addition to the conference championship — Kliavkoff can craft packages to sell to all interested bidders.

That includes negotiations over the kickoff times and weekly selection order.

The process could move quickly and be wrapped up by November.

More likely, it will extend into the winter, particularly if the conference determines expansion is the best course of action.

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