Larry Scott killed Pac-12? It’s Complicated

The anger was instantaneous, arising minutes after it became known that USC as well as University of California at Los Angeles we headed to the Big Ten conference. Fans posted on social media one after another referring to the name Larry Scott.

A year has passed since former Pac-12 commissioner resigned, however, people blamed him for the loss of two important programs. They called him a “destroyer” and a “fraudster”, predicting that business schools would someday talk about his “leadership failures”.

Larry Scott single-handedly destroyed a Pac-12they wrote.

This sarcasm stems from a decision Scott made shortly after he took over in 2009. At a time when other Power Five conferences partnered with ESPN and Fox to launch specialty networks—deals that would make billions of dollars—Scott convinced his universities to roll the dice. .

He insisted that the Pac-12 should build your network. It may take time for the venture to gain momentum, but this will allow the conference to retain all control and all profits.

“If we do everything right,” Scott recalled, addressing the presidents of his universities, “everything will be successful.”

His game never paid off. A decade after its debut, Pac-12 Networks has yet to see mainstream adoption, the conference lags far behind its competitors in terms of annual revenue and fight for victory at the national level in major sports such as football and men’s basketball.

“Now it’s easy to beat Larry Scott and play quarterback in the chair,” said Patrick Richet, director of the sports business program at Washington University in St. Louis. Louis. “That said, I think history will show that he didn’t make the wisest decision.”

This begs the question: With the departure of USC and UCLA, and the Oregon, Washington, and Stanford rumors soon to follow, how much of the blame does Scott deserve?

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His hiring looked like a gimmick for a conference lagging behind in revenue and national reputation. It was wise to bring on board an outsider who had proven his marketing ability as head of the Women’s Tennis Association.

Scott, who did not respond to an interview request for this story, knew what he was getting himself into.

“That was my challenge,” he said in 2010.

The new boss rang the bell at the opening of the NASDAQ and held a promotion in Times Square, saying, “We have an obligation to promote our product as widely as possible.” He added two schools, Utah and Colorado, through expansion, and introduced an updated logo.

Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott stands next to the chart announcing the separation of the NCAA football divisions.

Larry Scott announces the split of the Pac-10 into two divisions during a press conference in October. December 21, 2010 in San Francisco.

(Paul Sakuma/Associated Press)

TV dollars changed the business of college sports. The Big Ten partnered with Fox to launch their network in 2007, and the SEC gave their channel to ESPN in exchange for a hefty rights fee. CBS, ESPN and others have shown interest in the Pac-12.

“One of the criticisms I’ve heard of Larry Scott in the industry is that he always wants to be the smartest guy in the room,” Richet said. “You wonder if he was trying to outsmart it.”

Money and justice were only part of the arguments for going it alone. Pac-12 has always considered himself Olympic Conference, winning national titles in sports such as swimming, volleyball and water polo. A well-known broadcaster may focus too much on football and men’s basketball; own network will provide adequate coverage of these sports.

Pac-12 networks launched in 2012 with a national channel and six regional channels, which Scott described as an attempt to “super-serve fans” in various geographic markets. Scott also worked on a historically lucrative side deal, selling part of the football and men’s basketball games to ESPN and Fox for $3 billion over 12 years.

He believed that this money would give his network some kind of cushion to establish itself.

Even though the market was crowded—so many sports channels were in the fight—Pac-12 was charging operators a claimed 80 cents per subscriber, more than CNN, USA, or FX. Time Warner Cable agreed, but negotiations with DirecTV proved more difficult.

“One of the criticisms I’ve heard of Larry Scott in the industry is that he always wants to be the smartest guy in the room. You wonder if he was trying to outsmart it.”

– Patrick Richet, director of the sports business program at Washington University in St. Louis. Louis

Scott acknowledged that distribution would be critical.

“I know there is a lot of anxiety,” he said in 2012. “It’s understandable, it’s very important.”

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After three years of his big gamble, during the 2014 Pac-12 Football Media Days in Los Angeles, Scott took a break from work to find a shady spot outside. Talking to a reporter, he preached patience.

“You have to look at it in terms of where we will be in 10 years,” he said. “Not three.”

The first results were not promising.

Still unable to secure a deal with DirecTV, Pac-12 only had 11 million paying subscribers compared to the Big Ten’s 57 million. With the SEC due to restart before a projected 67 million households, Scott told his university presidents that “we have to look at the long-term benefits.”

Although the deals with ESPN and Fox were lucrative, the cable networks required overnight starts to fill the empty airtime on the East Coast. Fans and coaches have become disillusioned with the Pac-12 After Dark games.

In addition, Scott’s project failed.

The NCAA sanctions hurt USC football more than expected, and Oregon lost coach Chip Kelly to the NFL. None of the top men’s basketball programs have made it to the Final Four.

The conference was trapped-22. His network needed a powerful team to lure viewers in, but as competing conferences generated more revenue by spending more on coaches and luxury training facilities, the competition for the best recruits became increasingly fierce.

“They had a lot of production, but they didn’t have the right level of audience,” said Daniel Durban, director of the Institute for Sports, Media, and Society at the University of Southern California. “Frankly, the Pac-12 just wasn’t that attractive.”

Meanwhile, the SEC was pouring unprecedented resources into football, with Nick Saban and Alabama leading the way, winning championship after championship.

“Pac-12 schools have always been on the West Coast, they’ve always been about visibility and hiring,” Richet said. “These issues become more acute when a conference like the SEC takes over and it becomes increasingly difficult to catch up.”

Olympic sports couldn’t make up for it.

“The icing on the cake could be the Olympics,” Durbin said. “But you need a core product.”

The UCLA softball team poses for photos after defeating Oklahoma in the 2019 Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City.

The UCLA softball team poses for photos after defeating Oklahoma in the 2019 Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.

(Alonzo Adams/Associated Press)

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The numbers remained low throughout 2018, with Pac-12 distributing about $30 million a year to its schools, far short of the $40 million the SEC paid out. Washington State President Kirk Schultz and others began to complain publicly.

That summer, sitting in the stands at the AAU basketball tournament in Garden Grove and watching his teenage son play, Scott held on tight.

“I would never say that at some point you won’t make another call,” he said. “But for now, our universities and I are really convinced that the original goals of building the Pac-12 network are important.”

ESPN reportedly offered to distribute the network in exchange for an extended rights agreement. There was no deal.

“If that’s the case, it was a significant missed opportunity,” said consultant Lee Burke, president of LHB Sports, Entertainment & Media Inc. “Of course there is room for criticism.”

The Pac-12 university presidents finally lost patience after the 2020 football season when it was announced that Scott would retire in June, a year before his contract ended.

“At one point, our television deal was the most profitable in the country, and the debut of Pac-12 Networks helped introduce our champion brand to US and global markets across traditional and digital platforms,” ​​said Oregon President Michael Schill. statement. “However, the intercollegiate athletics market is not static and now is the time to bring in a new leader to help us develop our strategy to move forward.”

“Larry Scott is one of the problems… [But] you can’t make just one person the scapegoat.”

– Daniel Durban, director of the USC Institute for Sports, Media and Society.

Their strategy is complicated by the fact that current media contracts expire in 2024 and two, if not five, important programs are out of control.

This outcome may be related to the Scott Gambit. In fiscal year 2021, the Big Ten gave $680 million to schools, nearly double the $344 million paid out by Pac-12. UCLA officials said they risk curtailing programs without additional revenue. USC President Carol Folt cited the Big Ten move as an asset to her school’s “long-term success and stability.”

So what’s left for Scott and his 11-year tenure?

Of course, he must take credit for putting Pac-12 on the path to self-ownership and signing a 12-year ESPN-Fox contract that has left the conference unable to adjust to the changing media landscape. Also, for failing to change course in other ways.

“Remember, when he got on stage, he was trying to make a splash,” Richet said. “Obviously there was some myopia.”

Some factors were out of his control.

Experts point to a string of setbacks, the cyclical nature of college sports, and university presidents who endorsed Scott’s media strategy from the start. After the launch of the network, campus leaders refused to spend funds at the SEC level and reward winning teams that would attract more viewers.

The conference also faced an uphill battle in terms of geography and time zones, as most of the TV viewers lived in remote regions of the country.

“Unless you took the Pac-12 and moved it across the Mississippi River, you will always have these problems,” Burke said. “Basically, that’s what the big ten did: they took USC and UCLA and moved them to the central and eastern time zones, where a lot more of their games would be seen.”

Shortly before retiring, Scott told The Associated Press that he regrets that his schools don’t win more in football. He criticized the university’s leadership for abandoning their plan too soon.

Fans reacted with displeasure to the comments. However, the final verdict on his tenure is likely more nuanced than many angry social media posts suggest.

“Larry Scott is one of the problems,” Durbin said. But when it comes to something as serious as a potential Pac-12 explosion, he added, “you can’t scapegoat just one person.”