In 2023, the Pac-12 will be entering the final year of the current media agreement which is set to expire in 2024. The Pac-12 is currently contracted with ESPN and FOX to provide television and streaming options for the conference which has fallen behind its peers in recent years. The Pac-12 remains the last college football conference not to have a media deal in place through the 2030’s.
ESPN, FOX, FS1, and PAC-12 Network will continue with coverage this season
Viewers will continue to find PAC-12 games on ESPN, FOX, FS1, and the PAC-12 Network for the 2023 season. The best option for watching PAC-12 football this season will be Fubo “Sports Lite,” which carries ESPN, FOX, FS1, and PAC-12 Network.
Why teams are leaving the PAC-12
When news broke that two of the Pac-12’s iconic schools, USC and UCLA, would defect to the Big 10, a significant blow was dealt to the bargaining power held by Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff. However, many believe the announcement of Oregon and Washington’s departure was the final nail in the coffin.
All four schools will join the Big 10 in 2024.
The departures were prompted by the talks between Kliavkoff and media partners ESPN and FOX derailing as the conference sought to double the previous $250 million annual agreement. ESPN and FOX are valuing the deal with the Pac-12 -minus UCLA and USC- as somewhere more equivalent to the deal recently signed with the Big 12. That deal offers each campus somewhere between $32 million and $50 million per team each season.
PAC-12 departures by the numbers
PAC-12 schools receive an estimated $5-15 million per school annually
PAC-12 schools receive $20 million annually
Big 10 deal
Big 10 schools receive $80-100 million annually
One result of the Big 12 TV deal, which was completed more than a year ahead of schedule, is the difference in power held by ESPN and FOX. Prior to the deal, the Pac-12 was in a better negotiating position but is now seeing efforts to increase monies significantly above the existing quota stymied by the Big 12 deal. ESPN has informed the Pac-12 that any media rights deal will be more in line with the contract struck by the Big 12.
Which live TV streaming services carry PAC-12 channels in 2023?
In the easy to use table below, we list the live TV streaming services that carry the most important channels for watching PAC-12 football in 2023, the last year that USC and UCLA will be in the conference. Note that Sling TV carries FOX affiliates in a handful of local markets, including Los Angeles.
Look for Amazon to make a deal with the PAC-12
The result for 2023 will not alter the landscape for fans looking to stream their favorite Pac-12 teams since the existing contract will extend through the season. Games will continue to be primarily hosted by ESPN with FOX airing several big games throughout the season. With no deal imminent, Pac-12 games in 2024 and beyond are still up in the air, but industry insiders anticipate seeing Amazon, or even Apple, as the big winners when a deal does get done.
“ESPN will be prepared to split the Pac-12’s media rights with Amazon but will not offer the conference significantly more than it pays for the Big 12,” Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand said in a December 2022 interview. “That will lead the Pac-12 to sell almost its entire media package to Amazon for a price that is slightly higher than what the Big 12 gets from ESPN and FOX. The Pac-12 will carve out a handful of prime-time football games that it then will sell to CBS.”
The Athletic’s Steve Mandel wrote in December that the Pac-12 faces several pros and cons if the bulk of streaming rights goes to Amazon versus a more traditional offering to ESPN. Among the pros that mean the most to fans would be no more 10:30 pm ET kickoffs and much more availability for fans who struggle to get access to the PAC-12 Network.
Most of the negative aspects that Mandel acknowledges may never materialize, even in the presence of a deal that sees virtually all of the Pac-12 coverage move to Amazon. Mandel writes that the conference would lose “casual” viewers, those who are simply flipping channels looking for a game to watch, while viewership could also be impacted following fewer appearances on ESPN and even more rare visits by ESPN’s Game Day.
The reduction in broadcasting on ESPN could also impact the Pac-12’s recruiting since it will be more difficult for possible players to casually watch Pac-12 games. The changes coming over the next season will significantly alter the landscape of Pac-12 viewership. Whether the conference takes the plunge and becomes the first to primarily adopt a streaming platform partner for broadcasting or whether a deal gets done that sees ESPN continue its four-decade run as the primary television provider, fans are sure to find new ways to experience all that the Pac-12 has to offer in 2023.
Could women’s sports save the PAC-12?
One area of leverage that the Pac-12 anticipates is Women’s Basketball, a sport that is rapidly growing in popularity. Women’s sports in general are increasingly gaining steam across the board with an increased focus by the media on providing options for fans to watch games that have traditionally failed to garner enough attention to warrant television coverage.
“I think women’s basketball is our fastest-growing television sport,” Kliavkoff said in November. “Ratings are increasing faster than any other sport. And I think it’s one of the sports that has been undervalued traditionally, in media rights. I think that provides a great opportunity.”
Any deal that gets done will require the sign-off from the remaining 10 colleges with Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, and Colorado from further exploring options with other conferences. The Big 12, following the departure of headliners Texas and Oklahoma, engaged in a whirlwind of recruiting, ultimately luring BYU, Cincinnati, UCF, and Houston away from existing opportunities. The four schools will join Big 12 in 2023 while Texas and Oklahoma will depart for SEC in 2025 or earlier.