One of the Pac-12’s biggest challenges is geography. College sports are a fundamentally easier sell in the vast spaces of the Midwest and the South than they are in the sun- and snow-kissed cities and landscapes of the West.
“There are other parts of the country where it doesn’t matter who your team is playing against, you’re going to fill a 90,000-seat stadium,” Scott said. “I don’t have one school like that.”
Similarly, several of Scott’s critics complain that the league’s media deal requires frequent Friday night and late Saturday football games, which can be tougher for fans to attend. League coaches, including Petersen, have raised this issue. But changing that is likely impossible, given that the conference’s universities are in the Mountain and Pacific time zones, and roughly seven in 10 television viewers in the United States live in the Central or Eastern time zones.
“If you want to get revenues at the same level, then you’ve got to have kickoffs in East Coast prime time,” said Lee Berke, a sports media consultant. “And unless your schools are located there, they will never be in that position.”
Given those disadvantages, the Pac-12 and its eponymous TV network have tried to lean into the conference’s superiority in a wide range of Olympic and nonrevenue sports beyond football and basketball. The national Pac-12 Network and its six regional affiliates show about 850 events a year, almost double the Big Ten Network.
“We have a network that allows us to project our identity and the full breadth of our sports,” said Michael Crow, the long-serving president of Arizona State (who lettered in track and field at Iowa State). Crow is one of three Pac-12 presidents or chancellors remaining from the group that hired Scott in 2009. “It’s fantastic that women’s volleyball and softball and athlete profiles are going out across the whole western United States on a network we control.”
But although it is now in its fifth year, the Pac-12 Network faces difficulty reaching viewers. It has never been carried by DirectTV, which delivers television to about 20 million households and is the provider of choice for many bars and restaurants. Half a million homes, according to one estimate, lost the Pac-12 Network after the channel was recently dropped from AT&T’s U-Verse.