Behind ESPN’s Pac-12 deal

Beginning with the 2012-13 seasons, expect to see the likes of the Pac-12’s football championship game, and the conference’s men’s and women’s basketball tournaments on various ESPN platforms.

ESPN and the Pac-12 Conference reached a 12-year agreement this week. The pact continues through 2024-25.

Front Row caught up with Burke Magnus, Senior Vice President, College Sports Programming, to learn more about the agreement. Magnus also participated in the Wednesday news conference announcing the deal (see video).

FR: Why was signing the Pac-12 to a long-term agreement important to ESPN?

Magnus: The Pac-12 is a great conference that provides us with high quality football, basketball and Olympic sports content that is a critical piece to our overall college sports enterprise. We have a long history with the conference and will serve many West Coast fans through these games. Specifically, we are excited about the opportunity to expand our partnership and do more with the Pac-12 than we’ve done before.

FR: What elements of this agreement are you most excited about?

Magnus: For me, it is our new college basketball relationship. I worked extensively on our college basketball properties and it was always somewhat frustrating to me that we did not have great access to the then Pac-10. That ends next season. Pac-12 men’s basketball will have a huge presence on our networks, including a major presence on ESPNU. That is very gratifying for me.

FR: What differences in Pac-12 content will fans see on ESPN with the new deal?

Magnus: More will be the greatest difference: more games, more sports, more platforms, more technologies and better access for fans. I know they are excited and so are we.

FR: What differentiated ESPN from other potential outlets?

Magnus: We believe with all of our outlets and platforms  that we are best positioned to help grow conferences. We live and breathe college sports year round. College sports are part of our DNA. I believe the Pac-12 realized a relationship with ESPN would best help them reach their long-term goals as a conference.

FR: How did ESPN perceive the recent Pac-12 changes in terms of the impact on this agreement?

Magnus: The addition of Colorado and Utah, two institutions with great profiles and tradition of success, both on and off the field, has done several things. In the simplest sense, by being the two that expanded the conference to 12 members, it allowed the creation of the football championship game which is an exciting new piece of high profile content. But more than that, these two schools expanded the geographic reach of the conference and grew the fan base. Great new rivalries will develop and I have no doubt these schools will be a perfect fit.

FR: How is negotiating a rights agreement different now from just five or 10 years ago?

Magnus: Everything is more complicated. First, there is more competition. Also, today’s deals not only include conversations about TV and online rights, but also take into account the ability to exploit content across various media and new technologies. These are often areas where the rightsholder wants to have a presence with its own branded platforms.

FR: What is the one misperception fans might have about negotiating rights agreements?

Magnus: The process never stops. With an ever-shifting landscape, we are constantly having conversations with our partners about the next deal or how to maximize our current agreement. Plus, hotel conference rooms and all-day conversations around a table stocked with cookies and sodas never more than five feet away is a great way to gain 10 pounds.

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