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Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott says basketball schedule may be tweaked

Post by Todd Dybas / The News Tribune on March 15, 2013 at 11:05 pm with No Comments »
March 15, 2013 11:05 pm

The commish was at the tournament all week long and met with reporters prior to the semifinals on Friday.

Nothing new on DirecTV talks to carry the Pac-12 Network. Scott is also a master of speaking without saying much. He said this about looking at basketball scheduling and possibly tweaking it:

That could mean playing on another day to possibly alleviate some late start times for schools for whom that’s a problem for, might not,” Scott said. “But I don’t want to leave you with the impression that there will be a dramatic change.  I don’t think there will be a dramatic change.  You prefaced the question by you might tweak, and I think that’s probably the appropriate context to think of it in.”

The rest of the Q&A is on the jump:

 

COMMISSIONER SCOTT:  Nice to see you all today.  Thank you for being here.  This is a bit of a tradition at the end of each of our basketball tournaments.  I’m thrilled to be here today.  Looking at what will be the end of the Pac‑12 basketball season tomorrow night.

From top to bottom this has really been a terrific year for the conference and basketball, great performances, great fan support for what we’re doing, and certainly improved national recognition for where Pac‑12 basketball is at.

Certainly we’ve had an impressive group of first time players in the conference as well as seasoned veterans, and one of the things that’s been most compelling from my perspective is the competition itself and just how competitive this conference has been.

When I look back on the stats from this year, to think that half the games this year were decided by five points or less, it’s hard to imagine a more competitive conference than what we’ve had in the Pac‑12 this year.

Again, I think success in a conference is measured by the elite teams and how they do.  Certainly our teams had their share of notable wins this season, but also the depth of the conference.  Clearly the trajectory for the conference is heading in the right direction.

Certainly want to congratulate the four programs that have made it to the semifinal tonight, UCLA, Arizona, Utah and Oregon.  They’ve played very well this week and well deserved.  Certainly we’re very pleased with the success of the event so far.  This has been a very positive step forward for the tournament.

I’m certainly mostly pleased for the student‑athletes, for the teams to get to play in front of the type of crowds, the type of electricity that we’ve had inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena that they’ve had.  This is the kind of atmosphere that we envisioned and hoped for when we thought about moving the tournament from Los Angeles.  This was the objective, the kinds of crowds, the dynamic atmosphere that we’ve witnessed.  That was our top priority.

Even though we’ve got tonight’s games still to go and tomorrow night’s championship game still to go, certainly confident in saying this is probably more than just a step forward.  It’s probably a leap forward in many respects.

As I hope you’ve been able to tell, in addition to having bigger crowds by being in a location that was more attractive, a lot of effort has gone into engaging the schools, engaging their fans, whether it’s been some of the marketing travel packages that were put together or some of the things we’ve done with the schools themselves to insure that the atmosphere inside the arena had the kind of energy, but also the collegiate atmosphere that we aimed for.  That was an important objective.

So one of the things we did for the first time this year was to allocate a student section for each team.  We hadn’t done that before.  Last year some of you would have seen that Colorado took the initiative to bring their own student section.  I said that’s a great idea.  We want to make that a staple, a signature of the Pac‑12 basketball tournament going forward.

So this year each of the schools was afforded that opportunity.  And I think you’ll see tonight all four teams have brought student sections in addition to their bands and cheer sections and all of that.  I think that’s contributed, from my perspective, to the atmosphere and to make sure it feels very collegiate.

So the buzz around the tournament has been great, but I do believe that a lot of the national perception of the conference this year has certainly been the result of new TV arrangements.  This is the first year of our new 12‑year agreement with ESPN and FOX, and of course the first year of the launch of the Pac‑12 Networks that has resulted in every single men’s basketball game being telecast this year, available to audiences throughout the country.

Being back on ESPN is something that our coaches have been talking to me about for a while, as we were thinking about our new media agreement, and I also believe that’s contributed to a better national perception of the conference, more appreciation, more following for the conference by some of the national influencers.

We will have had 47 games on ESPN when they broadcast our championship game tomorrow night, 22 games on FOX, and over 150 on the Pac‑12 Networks.  Included in ESPN’s coverage was the “College Gameday” appearance when Arizona visited UCLA and all of that has meant a lot more marketing, a lot more promotion, a lot more exposure for Pac‑12 basketball.

Having our own integrated media company like Pac‑12 Networks, of course, has insured that we can give 360 degree coverage of Pac‑12 basketball of studio shows, analysis, both linear and digital.  For this tournament we broadcast eight of the 11 games.  Three of the games were on ESPN, and on the digital side something that may not be as obvious to people, we’ve seen our best week ever for Pac‑12.com since everything was relaunched last summer.

Fans have consumed more than 10,000 hours of video this week, more than 140,000 of those, and downloaded the Pac‑12 Now iPad and iPhone app more than 3,000 times.  This is the app that allows you to watch the Pac‑12 Networks on your devices on your iPad or your iPhone.

So we know the interest that this tournament has generated by that unprecedented number of fans trying to access it via mobile devices.  This is what we envisioned with the network.

Year one has been extremely successful.  At this point we have 355 distributors carrying the Pac‑12 Network, including four of the top 5 in the country.  So we’re a regional‑wide audience, and from my perspective, launching a network is very much a long‑term objective and proposition, a great asset for the conference and our schools.  It’s obviously a series of building blocks that you put in place.  But our first efforts in the first year have been terrific.

We don’t have five of the top 5 yet.  We are still missing DIRECTV, eager to get them.  I get asked that question a lot.  Of course, it’s a great source of frustration because of the quality of Pac‑12 football, basketball, and all of the Olympic sports that we’re airing on the network, and therefore it’s a real frustration and priority of focus for us as well.

I want to reiterate, we are ready to make an agreement with DIRECTV.  We’re eager to do so.  We’ve offered them the same terms, essentially as to the other 55 distributors are carrying.  Unfortunately, they’ve refused to take it at this point in time.  The offer is fair.  It’s serious, and again, it’s consistent with what the other 55 are taking, and we simply hope that they agree to take it soon, certainly in advance of the upcoming football season, and we’ll stop depriving their customers and our fans of the great content.

Going beyond this week, we’re going to have very strong representation in the NCAA Tournament.  Significantly better.  I’m not going to predict numbers, but significantly better than what we had last year.  And I think this year in many respects represents the Pac‑12 getting back to its historical levels of national prominence and success, and I think that will be evidenced by the number of teams that we get into the tournament and some of the improved national perception of respect that the conference is getting.

Finally, I want to thank all of the partners that were involved in making this happen, very strong Pac‑12 staff that’s worked hard on this.  But our partners, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, their President and CEO, Rossi Ralenkotter, provided great leadership.  Las Vegas Events, Pat Christenson, their President, and of course the MGM Grand which has been a great host.  Hard to imagine, but all 12 teams were staying here, were accommodated.  It made a very special experience for the student‑athletes and the teams, their President, Scott Sibella has been a great partner.

Let me conclude my remarks before opening it up to questions by sharing a piece of information that I just got as I was walking in here from our marketing team.  And I didn’t think I’d be announcing this in our first year in Las Vegas, but we’ve actually sold out our first session tonight.  As of about an hour ago tonight’s session is sold out.

So I think that represents a tremendous effort by all of the people that I referenced that have been partners in this event and certainly bodes very well for the future.  This based on the feedback that I’m getting.  I think this event has the potential in only its first year of what is a three‑year agreement to be a long‑term relationship and something that through word of mouth and otherwise has potential to grow and build and really become an iconic event for the Pac‑12.

So with that, let me stop there and happy to take any questions you have.

 

Q.  I saw you with Pat Rossi the other day.  Have you guys had even just casual talks about trying to extend beyond three years here in Las Vegas?

COMMISSIONER SCOTT:  Well, it was great to catch up with our partners during the week.  We’ve had a chance to visit, and we have not had any serious discussion about the future.  We’ve been very focused on doing everything we can to make this event a success and maximize the opportunity.

There is still a lot of room to build upon this first year and grow.  We did talk about the things that are happening in Las Vegas.  Some very exciting developments and news reports about developments going on here, future arenas that are being built.  MGM and AEG have designs on a 20,000 seat basketball arena here, so we’re very much looking at the future.

But we committed to three years feeling like that’s the kind of time you really need to see how an event works in a market.  I think it’s fair to say year one has exceeded our expectations in many respects.  We’ve also got a list of things we’ll work hard to improve upon.  But a very good year, and I think there is a lot of potential for this to go beyond three years.

 

Q.  We get emails and tweets and all of that from people who want to watch the games on television and have not been able to this week.  Is there a way in the future to make it available as a digital package for special events for anything that would give them an option other than getting caught up in this DIRECTV, Pac‑12 Network thing?

COMMISSIONER SCOTT:  Unfortunately, there is not.  The way these agreements work, we can only distribute digitally via devices live games, where someone’s a subscriber to a network.  That is the framework and underpinning for how these distribution agreements work.

If it were available free to people that weren’t subscribers, they wouldn’t necessarily need to subscribe.  So unfortunately, that’s not an option.  It’s our hope that by the time football season comes around or by the time this tournament comes around, hopefully this will be solved.

 

Q.  Is there any reason to think that at this point anybody’s position has changed?  Has anybody gained or lost leverage after seven months, eight months of sports that ‑‑ is there some thought that the people who would have switched have already switched, and the people who aren’t, aren’t?  Anything like that?

COMMISSIONER SCOTT:  It’s hard to think about in those terms.  It’s hard to have any stats one way or another in terms of how that works.  We’re not privy, exactly, to how many people switch when they switch.  But we get a lot of anecdotal feedback.  And I think understandably based on the feedback I’ve gotten, and I get plenty of feedback, a lot of people have taken a wait‑and‑see attitude.

I completely understand why customers of these cable and satellite companies have gotten a little desensitized to some of these things.

What’s happened with us and DIRECTV is not unique, unfortunately, in the world of distribution and channels.  Certainly that’s true when it comes to start‑ups.  People have gotten desensitized seeing that these things have tended to work themselves out, so some have taken a wait‑and‑see attitude.

But I’ve heard a fairly consistent refrain from people is that if we get around to year two and football season is about to start and doesn’t look like DIRECTV’s picking it up.  I know for quite a few people I’ve heard from that that will be the straw that convinces them to switch.  And we hope it doesn’t come to that.  We’d like to work with DIRECTV. They’ve really been historically dedicated to sports fans, and have positioned their company that way.

They carry over 50 regional sports channels, some of which they own themselves.  They carry the Big Ten Network.  So they’re very, very deep when it comes to sports channels.  And I know the content we’re offering is of the highest quality, certainly comparatively to what they’re carrying.  I certainly know from a price and value perspective, it’s very, very well positioned.  So I’m hopeful that they come on board.

 

Q.  When FOX Sports won at their introductory press conference, they said Thursday Night Football is going to be one of their cornerstone products.  Is that already included in the current agreement with FOX?

COMMISSIONER SCOTT:  Yes, our new 12‑year agreement with FOX is the first year that contemplated what we’re now reading about, this launch of FOX Sports One.  They took us into confidence during our negotiations and told us they might, during early in the term of our agreement, create such a sports channel.  So it’s our expectation for the fall and football that our games, rather being on FOX Broadcast Channel and FX, will be on FOX Broadcast Channel and FOX Sports One.

The games that you watched on FX in football will likely migrate to FOX Sports One.  When it comes to basketball, they have 22 games that aired on FSN this year, in addition to the 47 ESPN had.

It’s our expectation that some portion of those, if not all, are going to migrate to FOX Sports One.  We’re excited about it.  They’re making a very big push.  They’re going to have great quality content.  Major League Baseball, UFC, Big 12, us, others, and it’s going to be very high quality.

So we’re really pleased to be one of the founding major sports properties that will be part of that.

 

Q.  It seems like most of the big issues you sort of inherited or had to work through, expansion, football championship game, the tournament, the network, the TV deal have all been settled.  What do you see as the next big project that you have to work on for the conference?

COMMISSIONER SCOTT:  Well, I’m not ready to declare victory on everything.  We still have a lot of work to do, but a lot of the major initiatives around our championships, television, network, et cetera, are certainly very, very pleased.  If you would have told me when we first met three and a half years ago, almost four years ago that this is where we’d be, I would have been absolutely delighted with the progress that we’ve been able to make and the relative positioning of our conference compared to others.

In football we’ve made tremendous progress, and I think this year was an inflection point for basketball based on all of the things that we’ve talked about, the competitiveness of the teams, the television exposure, now a fitting Pac‑12 tournament.

But like what we’ve just been talking about within each of those things, there is still a lot of work to do to get it to the level that we want to get it to.  So I very much have my eye focused on the ball of improving the thing that’s we’ve started working on.  I’m certainly not going to rest until we get completely full distribution of the network, and we build this event to what it can be and perfect to the extent possible a football championship game and lot of work to do on the networks and all of that.

I certainly don’t see it as ticking a box and moving on to something else.  I see major milestones that can be achieved and built upon.  These are great platforms to build upon.  I’ve got even greater aspirations for each of these new initiatives.

But beyond that, we have spent a lot of time on my agenda, spending a lot of time still on the college football playoff.  That’s been a high priority for us as a conference to be a leader with other conferences and repositioning postseason college football.

I’ve talked some about our international initiatives, and you probably haven’t seen it.  We’ve got 30 athletics directors from Chinese universities visiting here this week as part of the exchange that we started last summer, and you’ll see us do more and more in China and with China back here.

So we’re taking some initial steps on some things.  It’s going to be pretty exciting there.  There is no shortage of issues and opportunities that come up.  But those are the main priorities that I’ve been focused on now.

 

Q.  There’s been some talk about maybe tweaking the basketball schedule, certain days, times.  What do you envision for next year?

COMMISSIONER SCOTT:  I really give a lot of credit tower schools to put in place the TV arrangements that we’ve put in place to launch a network.  It’s required a lot of flexibility from the campuses.

To think that last year there were 90 basketball games not televised at all.  Not on a regional network, not on any network.  And this year we’ve got everything televised, well over 200 events televised.  It meant that we had to take a more flexible approach to scheduling.  We’ve always been one of the more conservative conferences, scheduling men’s basketball on Thursday nights and Saturdays.

Now we are Wednesday and Thursday doubleheaders most of the time, Saturday and Sunday.  Not just on the Pac‑12 Network, but squeezing 47 basketball games into ESPN’s already full roster of college basketball has required some flexibility and some late starts.

I remember when I was in Tucson, I was there for a 9:00 p.m. tipoff for Washington and Arizona.  It wound up being great exposure for our programs.  But prior, you’d never have to play a 9:00 p.m. start time.  So programs have been very flexibility.  They’ve very much benefited from it.

But we are now coming to the end of the basketball season, downloading and seeing what the tensions were in terms of attendance, pushback from fans, from alumni.  Each school is a little different in terms of when they like to play both in football and basketball.  So we’re taking that feedback and we’re going to look at the possibility of tweaking.

That could mean playing on another day to possibly alleviate some late start times for schools for whom that’s a problem for, might not.  But once we close the book on the season, we’ve already started gathering data.  We get together with our basketball coaches and our athletics directors in May for kind of a postmortem on the season.  A little forward looking discussion, and that’s exactly the kind of topic we’ll do a deep dive on there.

 

Q.  Just to follow that up, could you envision another day Monday or Tuesday or maybe even splitting up travel partners in some cases?

COMMISSIONER SCOTT:  Right now we’re at a very high level, I’d say, exploring everything.  Let me underscore, we might not change at all what we’re doing.  But we will look at Tuesday.  We’ll look at Friday.  We are right now, as part of this, I’ve already had our team do a little benchmarking against other conferences.  Playing to weeknights, we’re still the least number of weeknights compared to our peer conferences.  Most of our peer conferences are at three or four nights a week.  It’s something our conference has prided itself on.

In addition to being able to travel and playing against travel pairs, which is a unique signature of our conference where you play the two teams in that state or that geography, that’s been a pretty neat feature of the conference in terms of how you could market an upcoming series, Tucson against the Bay Area teams, for example; or traveling to Oregon to play those two teams.

I think that’s been a well‑appreciated feature of our basketball schedule.  It’s also allowed us to keep costs down, keep wear and tear from travel down.  So that is one of the things that we’re weighing up as part of this to what extent we can keep that, should keep that.  We’re looking at everything.

But I don’t want to leave you with the impression that there will be a dramatic change.  I don’t think there will be a dramatic change.  You prefaced the question by you might tweak, and I think that’s probably the appropriate context to think of it in.

 

Q.  I have a basketball scheduling question.  With the Mountain West having concluded its Missouri Valley challenge deal,  is there any appetite on the Pac‑12′s part to maybe start a Mountain West‑Pac‑12 kind of challenge early in the season given their RPI has become very solid?  Also, with your networks looking for early season programming, could it be a win‑win maybe for both conferences if they started to play a regular series which could be promoted through ESPN which the Mountain West is about to reengage with?

COMMISSIONER SCOTT:  Yeah, we’ve not had any discussion about a series.  We’ve recently come out of a series arrangement with the Big 12.  We’re not looking to jump into another series arrangement.  We’re still analyzing and playing with approaches to scheduling.  A lot of our teams made a real adjustment after last year’s season and scheduled tougher this season, in certain respects, after we had a conversation about it last spring.  It benefited a lot of our programs.

We do get to play quite a few Mountain West teams, and they’re very convenient games to play, a lot of great match‑ups that we play against.

So I expect that will continue.  We’re thinking about a lot of different things in terms of preseason events, tournaments, but not really talking about alliances at the moment.

Thank you for being here.

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