Pac-12 media rights negotiations: Multiple presidents pushed for unrealistic deal from ESPN

Pac-12 media rights negotiations: Multiple presidents pushed for unrealistic deal from ESPN

Do-overs? Absolutely, Kirk Schulz has a list of decisions he’d like back following the collapse of the Pac-12.

The Washington State president and chair of the Pac-12 board was heavily involved in the media rights saga that spanned 13 months and ended last week in a failed effort to save the conference.

“We should have had a more robust conversations about our value in the marketplace,” Schulz told the Hotline on Friday.

The failure to accept market reality led the Pac-12 presidents last fall to reject an offer of $30 million per year (per school) from ESPN for the entirety of the conference’s football and men’s basketball media inventory, according to JohnCanzano.com.

Instead, the presidents instructed commissioner George Kliavkoff to pursue a deal in the $50 million per-school range.

“Two or three schools were interested in that number,” Schulz said. “The discussions were that we really had to close the gap on the Big Ten. The commissioner went off with those numbers, which were unrealistic for sure.”

A source familiar with the negotiations told the Hotline this week that one president even believed the valuation “should be in the 50s” — meaning, more than $50 million per school. (The source declined to identify the president.)

ESPN declined the Pac-12’s counteroffer.

“They couldn’t save those guys from themselves,” the source said. “The people with expertise were telling them there was a path to a deal in the $30 millions …

“(But) if George had come to the presidents in October and said there was a deal out there at $32 million or so, they would have thrown him out of the room.”

Asked if Kliavkoff should have pushed back against the presidents, Schulz said: “I don’t know what the individual conversations were like between George and those schools.”

Kliavkoff declined to comment for this story.

The push for $50 million per school came after the Big Ten announced a deal with Fox, CBS and NBC valued in the $65 million range (per school per year) but before the Big 12 presidents agreed to a partnership with ESPN and Fox for $31.7 million per year.

Schulz served on the Pac-12’s three-person executive committee for the first year of the media negotiations, along with Washington’s Ana Mari Cauce and Stanford’s Marc Tessier-Lavigne; he became chair in July.

“Nobody wants to hear it,” Schulz said, “but sometimes you need a reality check …  rather than spending too much time chasing fantasy numbers.”

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