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Pac-12 media rights: Kliavkoff under pressure as saga nears conclusion and presidents express optimism

By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

The Pac-12 appointed George Kliavkoff as commissioner in the spring of 2021 for a bevy of reasons, perhaps none more significant than his ability “to see where the hockey puck was going to go,” according to former Oregon president Michael Schill.

One puck zoomed past unexpectedly last summer, when USC and UCLA declared their intentions to flee to the Big Ten.

Now here comes another, in the form of the Pac-12’s media rights negotiations. Kliavkoff must do more than identify its direction; he must redirect a gilded puck into the back of the net.

This is exactly why the conference hired the former president of MGM Sports and Entertainment in the first place — to close a media deal that satisfies the revenue and exposure needs of the membership.

Nothing else matters. The stakes are nothing less than the future of the conference and the trajectory of major college sports on the West Coast.

Will Kliavkoff land a deal comparable in revenue to the Big 12’s agreement with Fox and ESPN that will distribute $31.7 million per campus?

Will the deal include sufficient exposure on broadcast and cable television?

Will the deal include an alternate revenue stream — perhaps a deal to sell statistical data — that has not been the subject of rumor and speculation for all these many months?

We could find out this week, when the Pac-12 Board of Directors gathers (remotely) for its latest meeting. Or perhaps the momentous votes will be cast next week. Or the first week of April.

Whatever the exact timing, resolution is close.

We know this because two presidents recently suggested as much.

Last week, Arizona State’s Michael Crow told the State Press that the conference had reached “the final stages” of the process while Arizona’s Robert Robbins told the Hotline (and other media outlets) that a deal was close. Both expressed confidence that Kliavkoff would present an acceptable proposal.

We found their comments instructive when cast against the backdrop of the past nine months.

Throughout this saga, the Pac-12 has remained remarkably disciplined in its messaging — disciplined to a fault, some would say.

As rumors of low-ball offers and mass defections dominated both traditional and social media, Kliavkoff stayed mum, an approach his negotiating partners undoubtedly appreciated.

But last week, those sounds of silence morphed into the Robert Robbins 2023 Media Tour — a series of on-the-record interviews by Arizona’s president with both regional and national outlets.

Robbins’ overall tone was optimistic: He needed to see the final offer before making a decision on Arizona’s conference affiliation but expressed confidence in the outcome.

Given the Pac-12’s message discipline, we should assume Kliavkoff knew ahead of time that Robbins was going public.

And we should assume that Robbins was briefed on the latest news from the negotiations — if not the specifics, then at least the general tone and trajectory.

Which tells us that Kliavkoff is deep enough into the process to have a sense for the numbers and was confident enough in what he’s heard from Apple, Amazon and ESPN to pass that sentiment along to Robbins.

There is no chance — none, zero, zip — that Robbins would go public if the situation appeared bleak behind the scenes.

Does that mean the Pac-12’s future is safe and secure? Only if Kliavkoff has seen the final offers and knows that even the worst proposal will be good enough. But that’s an assumption the Hotline isn’t prepared to make.

We don’t know if the negotiations have wrapped and all the bids are in. Until there’s a deal on the table and the presidents approve, the process could get derailed.

And if derailment occurs, if a wrench gets heaved from the other side of the negotiating table, it would constitute a colossal gaffe on Kliavkoff’s part — one that could spark the disintegration of the conference.

Could he misread the direction of the puck that badly? Given the advanced state of the negotiations, it seems unlikely.

Not impossible, but unlikely.