Pac-12 survival: All signs continue to indicate a broadcast partnership with Amazon could materialize

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

It has been 112 days since the Pac-12 began pursuing a media rights agreement in its post-Los Angeles existence. The process is highly fluid but, we suspect, closer to the finish line than the starting gate.

One aspect of the negotiations hasn’t changed: The potential for a distribution agreement with Big Tech — the first of its kind within the Power Five.

If anything, a deal with Amazon seems more likely today than it did in late July, when commissioner George Kliavkoff said the conference had received “significant interest from potential partners, including both incumbents and new traditional television and most importantly, digital media partners.”

Whether or not the Pac-12 partners with Amazon, the concept itself is fascinating. The Hotline previously examined how the NFL’s ‘Thursday Night Football’ on the streaming giant could impact Pac-12 strategy and the merits of an all-in partnership with Amazon across the remaining 10 universities.

1. Marie Donoghue, Amazon’s vice president for global sports video, indicated the company could add college football to its distribution portfolio.

“Actually, we’re very interested in that,” Donaghue told the “Marchand and Ourand” podcast.

“Obviously, we don’t talk about specific negotiations, but we’re going to keep knocking. The thing about sports is there’s a lot of marquee properties out there. We’re very interested in big-time college sports. Anybody would be.”

Amazon tried to secure rights this summer to the Big Ten’s football inventory, but the conference signed with Fox, NBC, and CBS instead.

2. The ‘Thursday Night Football’ broadcasts are a hit with advertisers and attract younger audiences, according to Amazon’s data.

The company just announced it would show an NFL game next season on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year.

“You’re bringing the average age of your audiences down. The consumer’s ability as a spender also goes up,” Jeremy Carey, chief investment officer at marketing agency Optimum Sports, said last week during an Advertising Week event in New York.

“The ability to talk to and extend reach across (Amazon’s) distribution is tremendous.”

3. The concept of a partnership with Amazon has become more palatable to Pac-12 conference and campus officials as the ‘Thursday Night Football’ experiment rolls on.

There have been no technical problems. The production value is excellent. And the ratings, while dropping since the season opener, have been impressive enough to suggest Amazon could be a viable platform for Pac-12 football.

That said, the conference must be smart. It cannot use Amazon as the only delivery vehicle for its football inventory. Broadcasts on the traditional college football networks — both over-the-air and cable — is vital.

The Hotline has contended since June 30, when USC and UCLA announced their departures to the Big Ten in 2024, that it was more likely the remaining 10 schools would stick together than break apart.

In much the same fashion, the most likely outcome of the media rights negotiations is a partnership with Amazon or Apple for a package of football and basketball games.

Amazon seemingly is a better fit because its NFL agreement creates a synergy with college football. Additionally, the scope of Amazon’s businesses presents the Pac-12 with a wider range of revenue opportunities.

As a result, we envision three scenarios:

— Amazon decides the Pac-12 doesn’t have enough compelling content to warrant a serious bid.

— Amazon makes a serious bid, but the Pac-12 opts for deals with traditional partners only. (This feels highly unlikely.)

— Amazon partners with the Pac-12 on a shared distribution agreement with ESPN and possibly Fox.

Exactly how the content is sliced and diced, we can only speculate. But weekly games on Friday night make sense, perhaps alternating between Amazon and ESPN.

(One option: Use the Apple Cup, which is played on Friday of Thanksgiving weekend and always draws impressive ratings, as the second half of a doubleheader with the NFL’s Black Friday game. The move surely would play well in Washington, Amazon’s home state.)

On so many levels, the Pac-12 isn’t the NFL. The success of ‘Thursday Night Football’ wouldn’t translate to Pac-12 broadcasts on Amazon in any direct fashion, either for ratings or advertising.

But in this case, the future is the key to the present.

The Pac-12 isn’t evaluating a partnership with Amazon based on how it would be received today; it’s evaluating Amazon for 2024 and 2026 and beyond.

Given the astounding rate of changes in technology and the way fans consume sports media — not to mention Big Tech’s roots along the West Coast — a partnership with Amazon could feel as normal in the second half of the decade as it feels unnatural today.

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