Will Stanford- and Berkeley-Alum-Laden Apple Rescue Pac-12 Networks ... and the Whole Pac-12?

Bill Walton
Former playing legend and current college basketball analyst calls the Pac-12 athletic league ‘the conference of champions’ ... a lot. (Image credit: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

As NBA Hall-of-Famer turned loquacious college hoops commentator Bill Walton likes to say — a lot — the Pac-12 is the ”conference of champions,” routinely racking up more NCAA titles than any other collegiate league across men’s and women’s sports. 

But largely due to horrendous management of the conference's media rights, the league is on the ropes. The Pac-12 generates only a small fraction of the media-rights revenue enjoyed by the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference (SEC), mainly due to the strategic ineptitude of the Pac-12 Networks regional sports channels. 

The Pac-12’s two biggest revenue-generating schools, USC and UCLA, are set to defect to the Big 10 next year. And the Pac-12, saddled with relatively pedestrian pay TV distribution contracts, was recently beaten to the punch in the renewal market by rival the Big 12, which negotiated early new rights deals with national NCAA sports rights buyers ESPN and Fox, mainly to get ahead of the slow-moving Conference of Champions. 

Also read: Comcast Seeks $50 Million From Pac-12 Networks Following Years of Overpayments

So, down two huge members and with the Big 12 beating it to the punch, the Pac-12 is hosed, right?

Well, not exactly. Turns out that a big part of a college education is the connections you make. And the Pac-12 has some good ones. 

On Monday, the New York Post published a speculative piece suggesting that Apple, which has recently secured rights to Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer, might grab exclusive distribution rights for Pac-12 Networks. 

The Post didn't identify its sourcing, but it makes sense to us. 

Remaining Pac-12 member schools Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley remain the two biggest sources of Silicon Valley talent. According to a study conducted by Universum late last year, Stanford and Berkeley have combined to send more than 32,000 employees to "FAANG" companies.

As Next TV noted last month, the Disney-controlled SEC Network posted revenue of $833 million in 2021 vs. just 37.7 million for Pac-12 Networks, which draws only a fraction of the SEC Network’s audience. So of course, the value of the Pac-12’s next media-rights deal will come down to actual, well, value, right? 

The conference, now lacking its two biggest big-city meal tickets, will get what it gets ... even in a room full of Stanford and Cal graduates. That's how American capitalism works, right?

Pac-12 officials are telling member schools they should have a deal set next month. ■


Daniel Frankel

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!