Pac-12, Apple deal was $23M per school and underwhelming, but hope remained until 11th hour

For 13 months, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff publicly and privately expressed confidence that his league would receive a new media rights deal valuable enough to ensure its members stick together past 2024, the year USC and UCLA debut in the Big Ten.

The morning of Aug. 1, Kliavkoff finally presented the presidents and athletic directors a concrete offer. It was not what they’d been expecting to hear.


Oregon, Washington to join Big Ten in 2024 as Pac-12 stumbles

According to three people with knowledge of the terms, Apple offered the members a five-year deal with an annual base rate of $23 million per school (a subsequent counteroffer lifted it to $25 million), with incentives based on projected subscribers to a Pac-12 streaming product akin to Apple’s MLS League Pass.

At 1.7 million subscribers, the per-school payout would match the $31.7 million average that Big 12 schools will reportedly receive from ESPN and Fox beginning in 2025. But Kliavkoff encouraged the room to think much bigger — at 5 million subscribers, the schools would eclipse $50 million per year, closer to the deep-pocketed SEC and Big Ten than the ACC or Big 12.

The league also had an opt-out clause after three years if the deal didn’t reach a specific revenue target.

But there were no guarantees whether Apple would simulcast certain games on a linear network, as it does with Fox for MLS, in which case conference games would reach a much smaller universe than other major conferences. ESPN currently has 75 million subscribers, far more than the most optimistic projections for a Pac-12 product on Apple+.

Kliavkoff updated the 10 presidents throughout the negotiations, so neither Apple’s involvement or a streaming-heavy deal came as a surprise; the New York Post first reported the possibility in February. However, three participants said they’d been expecting to be presented with a second, more traditional option as well. Just as Kliavkoff and others had told reporters at the league’s Media Day on July 21, they were under the impression a new major player had emerged in the last six weeks.

But that deal, which involved multiple partners, fell apart at the 11th hour, shortly before the presidents’ self-imposed July 31 deadline for bidders to finalize their offers.

“(The Apple deal) was not the deal that we had been discussing just days before, and it was not going to secure (our future),” Washington president Ana Mari Cauce told reporters Saturday. “When you have a deal that people are saying one of the best aspects of it is, ‘you can get out in (three) years,’ that tells you a lot.”


Arizona, ASU, Utah leaving Pac-12 for Big 12

Even despite the underwhelming offer, at least several ADs went to bed Thursday believing they had a deal. Though Arizona and Utah had already applied for Big 12 membership, an Arizona board of regents meeting Thursday night ended with ASU president Michael Crow still unwilling to leave, and he and Arizona president Robert Robbins had pledged for their schools to remain together. If they stayed, Utah would, too.

“We were the stalwarts fighting for the Pac-12 until the last ditch,” Crow told reporters Saturday. He described the Apple deal as “a technological 23rd century Star Trek thing with really unbelievable capability that ASU was very interested in.”

Exiting that Thursday night regents meeting, there was enough uncertainty about the intentions of Arizona and Arizona State that the Big 12 entered Friday morning wondering whether its plan had fallen apart and the Pac-12 would survive, which might’ve forced the conference to move on and explore adding UConn as its 14th member.

“Late Thursday night, we were like, ‘Man, I don’t know if this is going to happen,’” one person familiar with the Big 12’s discussions said. “We went into Friday morning knowing there was a very real possibility that the Pac-12 was going to stay together as is.”


Oregon, Washington to the Big Ten? Experts discuss implications of latest realignment move

Meanwhile, the Big Ten, with a boost from media partner Fox, had hastily put together offers Thursday for Oregon and Washington in which they would join at a half share of the other 16 members (including USC and UCLA), at a rate only slightly higher than the Big 12’s $31.7 million. Deep into Thursday night and early Friday morning, Oregon was still torn whether to accept it, according to two people with knowledge of the deliberations. The Athletic reported early Friday that the discussions had lost momentum overnight.

“The mountain schools and Oregon and Washington didn’t want to have to do this,” said a person outside the Pac-12 conference briefed on the schools’ discussions. “They wanted it to be true that they could hit those (Apple) numbers. They wanted to be out west with those travel partners.

“They didn’t want to be in the Big Ten with a bad deal and those crazy travel details. Even at that time (Thursday night), it could have been held together, but that’s a lot to process in a short time. And that $50 million figure they thought they could hit on the high end, that wasn’t realistic.”

When the presidents reconvened at 7 a.m. PT Friday, Oregon and Washington’s presidents informed the group of their Big Ten intentions, and the rest of the league quickly unraveled from there.

“Once Oregon and Washington decided to go to the Big Ten, the conference was no longer viable,” said Crow, who said he met with the Big 12 for the first time at 10:30 a.m. PT Friday. “You can’t be in a non-viable position for more than a few hours in our minds, so we resolved that.”

The Big Ten officially announced Oregon and Washington at 3:25 p.m. PT. The Big 12 announced Arizona, Arizona State and Utah three hours later. That left Cal, Stanford, Oregon State and Washington State as the only remaining Pac-12 members by night’s end.

“I’m furious,” Oregon State AD Scott Barnes told The Oregonian. “… We were literally hours away from a deal that everybody could embrace.”

— Max Olson contributed reporting

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(Photo: Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)


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