Meet The Market Managers: Dan Seeman, Hubbard Broadcasting Minneapolis
“I always say every 24 year old turns 25. I don’t think they wake up on their 25th birthday and say ‘Geez, I’ve got to figure this FM and AM radio thing out.’ It’s baked in, right? So they’re taking their media habits right into the prime of that demo.”
Dan Seeman doesn’t mind telling you he is a lucky guy. He has had a 40-year radio career and gotten to do it all in the same major market. He has turned on iconic stations and shepherded legendary brands through new and uncharted waters.
Running Hubbard Broadcasting’s Minneapolis cluster has come with a unique set of challenges and opportunities, namely innovating. The cluster has already seen success doing things differently on the talk radio front with My Talk 107.1, so when it came time to rethink the way sports radio was presented, Dan and his team were ready.
They have been successful too! Hubbard remade ESPN 1500 as SKOR North a few years ago, rethinking radio’s relationship with digital content. The brand now boasts 41,000 subscribers on YouTube, and over the last 12 months, SKOR North has garnered 18 million podcast downloads. Every time SKOR North posts an episode of its Vikings show Purple Daily, it gets played at least 25,000 times.
In this conversation, presented by Point to Point Marketing, Dan and I cover how the pandemic changed and helped the evolution of SKOR North. We cover why merchandising is as important to the brand as the audio products and why a juggernaut like KFAN isn’t even on his sports brand’s radar.
Demetri Ravanos: First, congratulations to your daughter. I hear she is headed to Hofstra. That implies she has media aspirations of her own. Is that the case?
Dan Seeman: That’s a good question. She’s a theater person, and she has I think declared a psychology major. But she’s really into creating content. I’m not sure she sees radio on her horizon, but she sees journalism and digital content on her horizon, and we were really impressed with what Hofstra has built there.
DR: I want to take you back to 2011 for a second. At the time, I’m working in rock radio here in North Carolina. I have a consultant named Steve Reynolds, who I believe you know. He used to tell my partner and I all the time that My Talk 107.1, your female-driven talk station, was the perfect example of a great idea meeting the right level of patience to let it find its perfect form before the company decided if it worked or not. Obviously, the success story has written itself from there.
So tell me a little bit about that approach and how it is similar to the strategy you guys have taken with SKOR North. That was another very different idea for approaching a well-entrenched radio format.
DS: My Talk, I think, is certainly one of the great success stories in local radio. You’re right. It took a long time and it took tremendous patience and it took great vision from Ginny Morris. It’s going to be 20 years old this year, which is remarkable, right? I’ve been a part of it for 15.
It is incredibly successful for one single reason. It works for advertisers.
It is one of the top billing local radio stations in the market. We all love ratings, and ratings are the currency that we live with, but at the end of the day, I’d rather have clients who tell me that their cash register is ringing or that they’re selling couches or that they’re booking dentist appointments. That’s their currency, and if we can speak in those terms, we’ve had great success.
It’s personality-driven. I call it lean-in radio. It’s incredibly engaging. It’s tied to the community. It is very local even though all the content is national when you think about it, right? There are not a lot of celebrities in Minnesota, so the content is the same as what we’re reading in People or watching on Entertainment Tonight.
What makes the radio station special is two things. First, it’s the content through the lens of our very interesting personalities and second, it is the way that we give back and we listen to and do important things for our community.
DR: So how much of a model was that when you made the decision to rebrand ESPN 1500 as SKOR North? You guys are approaching sports radio as this sort of all-encompassing multi-platform thing. Certainly, you had to know, at the very least, it would require that same level of patience.
DS: Yeah, absolutely. Let me take a step back on My Talk real quick because I think it’s really relevant to what’s going on at SKOR North.
My Talk’s home base is still a radio station. We’re live and local for 13 hours every day, and all that content we created is for radio first, but I can tell you with confidence that I really like who we are and where we are today. We are set up and have begun to seamlessly integrate all of that content onto digital platforms.
Those YouTube channels are really important to us and the podcasting that we’re doing is getting incredible numbers under this My Talk brand. Having that megaphone of 107.1 FM has been and will continue to be very helpful as we move the way the audience’s eyeballs and ears are moving. That’s on-demand on digital platforms.
So then we bring in SKOR and SKOR is different because we launched a couple of years ago on an AM radio station. I don’t think it’s a secret that AM is not what it was twenty-plus years ago. We had in mind the same mode, let’s use AM to sort of provide some guardrails. We’ll use AM to create the content.
We very quickly shifted and adapted. This is really a digital content play. We’re happy to put some of the content on 1500 because it’s local and it’s very, very good, but we don’t create any content for the radio. We create that content for podcasts and for YouTube, and then we adapt it to radio, which is the opposite of what everybody else is doing.
DR: So that brings up a really good question. You are approaching this differently from everyone else. How then, when you are talking to new advertisers, how do you describe what SKOR North is?
DS: We describe SKOR North as “a sports content company that creates sports content for digital platforms”. One of our platforms happens to be AM radio, but frankly, most of our listening and most of our eyeballs, particularly on the younger side, are all coming from our digital platforms.
DR: Your digital presence is impressive. It’s not just the products. You mentioned the audience size. That is worth noting as well. But traditionally, that is something that terrestrial radio brands have had trouble monetizing. Given that, why has it been important to you that not just SKOR North, but all of Hubbard’s stations keep innovating and keep growing that content in the digital space?
DS: Because that’s where the eyes and the ears are going. Period.
I’m very robust on radio. I’m a radio guy. I think there’s a lot of good happening on radio. But if you look at share of ear and you look at younger listeners and younger consumers, you can see where the trend is. It Is clearly moving towards on-demand.
I’m not going to be doing this 20 years from now probably, but we need to have a business 20 years from now. I always say every 24 year old turns 25. I don’t think they wake up on their 25th birthday and say ‘Geez, I’ve got to figure this FM and AM radio thing out.’ It’s baked in, right? So they’re taking their media habits right into the prime of that demo. Every day a 54 year old turns 55 and is out of the demo with these old radio habits.
I have to go on my soapbox here. I do not understand why the top end of that demo isn’t 60 or 64 anymore. 25-54 is the same money demo it was 40 years ago when I got in this business! Think about how our lifestyles have changed! But look, that’s a whole other story.
The bottom line is that whether it’s 12 to 24-year-olds or 12 to 29-year-olds, however you want to look at that demo, the way that they are consuming media is very, very different than a 45 to 54-year-old. We’ve got to be ready for them.
DR: So you launch SKOR North with a long-term vision. As you mentioned, patience was going to be a big part of making this thing work. Then the pandemic derailed a chunk of what you had built already and what you were planning to do. So is the goal now to get that original vision back on track or has the vision changed and the ceiling for what the brand is changed in your eyes?
DS: The pandemic certainly caused a scale back. In hindsight, that turned out to be a good thing. It really helped us focus our efforts now on two or three of our SKOR North brands and really hone some great content. The other thing the pandemic did is it put into hyperspeed adaptation to digital platforms. All of the sudden, people weren’t in the car like they were before, and they had to figure out how to use that smart speaker in their house. They had to figure out how to stream and how to find content. Where they got most of their content was on the dashboard, and for a good year-plus, people weren’t driving as much.
At the same time that digital habits were getting super-sized, we were really focusing on primarily football and our Vikings coverage on SKOR North. It’s paid off incredibly as you look at some of the numbers that we are now reaching with our biggest SKOR North brands, Purple Daily and Mackey & Judd.
DR: You obviously weren’t alone, right? Every brand, every cluster in America had to figure out how to make the digital space work for them. Are you surprised Nielsen wasn’t innovating at that time and trying to roll out a system that measured listening in a way that was more realistic for the way people were using radio and audio?
DS: Well, ratings are measuring streaming. We’ve doubled down on that even on KS95 and My Talk. I’ll give you an example. We total line report for our radio stations. So pre-pandemic, a radio station like My Talk might have gotten 15 percent or 20 percent of its listeners out of the stream. By the way, by the industry standards that was already very high. There were months in 2020 and 2021 when over 50 percent of My Talk’s listening was coming from digital platforms. That’s remarkable that the percentage has gotten that high!
We just need to make sure that we embrace this because I think it’s a really, really good thing. Who has boomboxes or tabletop radios in their homes anymore? Nobody, right? Well, they really do have one. It’s called Alexa, and all radio stations are available on it. We just have to teach the people how to use them. It’s incredibly easy to do. We’ve had great success doing that, judging by the amount of listening that’s happening off the stream.
The other thing Hubbard does so well is our stations’ apps. Jeremy Sinon has been an incredible leader for us there. Our apps are easy to use and that is true across the entire company. That’s a big part of the success to me.
With SKOR North though, we flipped the formula. With SKOR, instead of using the broadcast platform to help build and create content for digital, this is a brand where we’re building great digital content that we also run on an AM radio station.
That gave us a chance to create some play-by-play relationships. We have one with the MLS’s Minnesota United Football Club. We have a play-by-play relationship with the University of St. Thomas, which is in the Summit League. We couldn’t do that if we were just a digital platform. I hope those relationships introduce some people to what we’re doing, but most of our growth is now coming from discoverability on YouTube and podcast platforms.
DR: So you mentioned earlier that you were part of the team that put KFAN on the air, and I wonder what it’s like now to compete with them. I mean, they are all local during prime time. They’re on FM. Ratings say they are incredibly popular. Do you just have to put that out of your head when you’re dealing with a brand like SKOR North?
DS: It’s a great radio station and that KFAN lineup still features a lot of my very good friends. We don’t look at KFAN. They own that broadcast space and are a big, big brand in that space.
We’re building a digital sports brand. We don’t look at the ratings. We look at podcast listeners. We’re looking at downloads. We’re looking at views on YouTube. That’s our currency, and that’s how we’re having some very good success with advertisers. It works.
I had a rep in my office a couple of weeks ago who sells SKOR North and we were talking about some bigger picture things. Everybody is always trying to steal our reps, right? So I wanted to know if anyone had reached out to him. He looked me in the eye and goes ‘why would I ever leave here? Everything I sell on SKOR North works’.
It does! There’s a great blog out there. It’s not even a book. It’s a blog called “A Thousand True Fans”. Have you read that?
DR: I have not read it, but I am familiar with it. I’ve heard about it a million times.
DS: It’s a quick read. The whole concept is that if you get a thousand true fans, now it might be 500, it might be 10,000, it might be 25,000. The point is it doesn’t need to be about massive reach anymore. You get a thousand true fans that love you and that you are integrated into their media landscape and their lives, you are going to be successful. Whether it’s following you on social media, watching you on YouTube, or listening to your podcast, they are so active and so responsive to advertising. That’s what advertisers are looking for.
DR: I’ve told Phil Mackey this before. I just marvel at what a great job you guys have done merchandizing SKOR North. So many brands stop just short of doing what you guys do. You’re putting designs together based on things said on shows about the local teams and you have found places, namely the state fair, to sell them.
Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems like merchandising is an essential part of SKOR North being a brand that is bigger than a single platform.
DS: Yeah, it is. Are you going to integrate yourself into our listeners’ lives? How do you do that? It’s just another extension.
I actually think we could do so much better in that space. We’ve got some work to do there, but we’ve had some highlights that have been fun and have gotten us some nice attention. I think we could do a lot better. Look at the ideal model. I mean, who does that better than anybody? Barstool, right? I think I read there that the percentage of revenue that comes out of merchandizing was jaw-dropping.
Hubbard has a rock station in St. Louis, KSHE. The work they do in merchandising is incredible. It’s part of the culture of that brand. It’s part of the mindset and you have to hire people who think and execute that way.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Robert Griffin III Wants to Tell Your Story the Right Way
“Even if I do know you personally, I’m not going to bring that to the broadcast because that’s not my job.”
During last season’s VRBO Fiesta Bowl, Robert Griffin III was part of ESPN’s alternate telecast at field level alongside Pat McAfee. Suddenly, the Heisman Trophy winner took a phone call. Once he hung up the phone, Griffin divulged that his wife had gone into labor and proceeded to sprint off of the field to catch a flight. An ESPN cameraperson documented his run and jubilation as he returned home to welcome his daughter, Gia, into the world. It encapsulated just what motivates Griffin to appear on television and discuss football, and why he is one of ESPN’s budding talents with the chance to make an impact on sports media and his community for years to come.
“This was an opportunity for me to go out and be different in the way that the media covers the players and truly get to the bottom of telling the players’ stories the right way,” Griffin said. “I look at this as an opportunity to do that.”
Griffin was a three-sport athlete as a student at Copperas Cove High School, and ultimately broke Texas state records in track and field. In addition to that, he played basketball and was the starting quarterback for the school’s football team as a junior and senior, drawing attention from various schools around the country. He ended up graduating high school one semester early and quickly became a star at Baylor University in both football and track and field.
Robert Griffin III’s nascent talent was hardly inconspicuous, evidenced by being named the 2008 Big 12 Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year and then, three years later, the winner of the Heisman Trophy. In the end, he graduated having set or tied 54 school records and helped the program to its first bowl game win in 19 years.
Ultimately, he transitioned to the NFL in a career with many trials and tribulations, but through it all, he never lost his sense of persistence. Nearly a decade later, he returned to college, but this time as a member of the media covering the game from afar. Unlike a majority of former players though, Griffin did not formally retire from playing football when inking a broadcasting contract with ESPN.
“I haven’t retired yet at all,” he said. “I tell everyone that asks me the question that I train every day [and] I’m prepared to play if that call does come. I’ve had some talks with teams over the past two years; just nothing has come to fruition.”
While Griffin’s focus as a broadcaster is undeniable, he never thought about seriously pursuing sports media until his broadcast agent pushed him to do so. He was urged to take an audition at FOX Sports. Griffin broke down highlights and called a mock NFL game alongside lead play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt. He was not prepared for that second part, but impressed executives and precipitously realized a career in the space may not be so outlandish after all.
Griffin then moved to ESPN where he experienced a similar audition process, this time calling a game with play-by-play announcer Rece Davis. Once the audition concluded, it was determined that Griffin would not only begin working in the industry, but that he would be accelerated because of his ability to communicate in an informative and entertaining style.
As a player, he saw the way media members covered teams – sometimes bereft of objectivity – and therefore saw assimilating into the industry as a chance to change that. Now, he is focused on telling the stories of the players en masse while being prepared to pivot at a moment’s notice.
ESPN’s intention was to implement Griffin on its studio coverage, but once executives heard him in the broadcast booth, the company had a palpable shift in its thinking. He was told he was ready to go out into the field and start calling games immediately, something of a surprise to him. FOX Sports felt similarly. This led to a bidding war between the two entities, which ultimately concluded with Griffin inking a contract with ESPN. He appeared over its airwaves plenty of times as a player, and even participated on a variety of studio shows in 2018 where he was almost permanently placed on NFL Live. This time around though, Griffin was suddenly preparing to work with Mark Jones and Quint Kessenich on college football games. He did not have time to consider the implications of the decision, instead diving headfirst into the craft and remaining focused on what was to come with producer Kim Belton and director Anthony DeMarco at his side.
“These guys took me under their wing, and I’m beyond indebted to them for that,” Griffin said of his colleagues. “They taught me everything that I know about the industry. They taught me everything I know about how to present things to the masses to where it can be easily digestible. They’ve allowed me to allow my personality to shine through.”
Demonstrating his personality was a facet of his makeup Griffin felt was inhibited by playing professional football, but he knows it would have been considerably more difficult to attain a chance to cover the game had he not laced up his cleats. Calling college football games with Jones accentuated his comfort in the booth because of Jones’ adept skill to appeal to the viewers and penetrate beyond the sport.
“He has the way to connect different generations of listeners to hear what he’s saying and perceive it in the same way,” Griffin said. “To me, that’s what we all strive to do in this industry is to be able to find the connective tissue between the fan who is 60 or 70 years old, and the fan who’s in their late teens or early 20s.”
From the beginning, everyone told Griffin to be himself and not adopt an alternate persona in front of the camera. That advice has guided him as he approaches his third year working in the industry.
“It is so hard to maintain a character or try to be someone that you’re not, but if you are who you are every single day, then every time you show up on camera you will be that person,” Griffin said. “I’ve made sure that when I stepped foot in front of that camera, I was going to be myself.”
Griffin identifies his style as pedagogical to a degree, critiquing players as if he was coaching them on the sidelines. He will never look to penetrate beyond football with his criticism, as drawing conclusions and using unrelated parlance could be viewed as indecorous. In short, Griffin III knows what it means to represent ESPN.
“We’re not a gossip website. We’re supposed to be critically acclaimed, prestigious journalists, and at the end of the day, that’s how I try to approach the job that I do. That’s why I got into the business – because I felt like there was a little of that going on, especially during my career, so I would never do to somebody else what was done to me.”
Over the course of his NFL career, Griffin was subject to immense criticism that went significantly beyond the gridiron. For example, sports commentator Rob Parker suggested that Griffin was not fully representative of the Black community and proceeded to question if he was a “cornball brother.” The incident resulted in Parker receiving a 30-day suspension from ESPN, and after he defended his comments and blamed First Take producers in a subsequent interview, the network decided not to renew his contract.
“My goal as a member of the media is to tell players’ stories the right way, and if I don’t know you personally, I’m never going to make it personal,” Griffin said. “Even if I do know you personally, I’m not going to bring that to the broadcast because that’s not my job.”
In addition to broadcasting college football games with Jones on ESPN and ABC, he also appears on-site for Monday Night Countdown, the network’s pregame show leading up to Monday Night Football. Making the decision to add NFL coverage to his slate of responsibilities meant that Griffin would be able to tell more stories and utilize his knowledge of players during their collegiate careers to enhance the broadcast.
The energy that he felt attending tailgates and interacting with fans at the college level gave him a unique skill set to translate to the NFL side, leading him to present the production team with an unparalleled idea for Week 1. He wanted to race Taima the Hawk, the live game mascot for the Seattle Seahawks who flies around Lumen Field prior to the start of each home game. It was an outlandish idea, but one that made sense for television because of the visual appeal it can present.
“If you know anything about hawks, they can fly up to 120-140 miles per hour, so they’re like, ‘There’s no way he’s going to beat this hawk in a race, but we’ll do it,’” Griffin said. “To that crew’s credit, they never once balked at any of the creative ideas that I brought to the table because they want to try different things and be exciting and have fun on the show.”
Griffin ended up winning the race, commencing the new season of Monday Night Countdown with immediate excitement before the Seahawks’ matchup against the Denver Broncos. He thoroughly enjoyed his first year on the show and having the chance to work alongside Suzy Colber, Adam Schefter, Booger McFarland, Steve Young, Larry Fitzgerald and Alex Smith.
“They always tell me, ‘Hey, anything you’re not comfortable with, you just let us know and we won’t do that thing,’” Griffin said of the show’s producers. “My answer always back to them is, ‘Well, I won’t know if I’m uncomfortable with it if I don’t try.’”
While Griffin had what looked like a seamless assimilation into the broadcasting world, he had a difficult moment when using a racial slur on live television in discussing Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. The clip quickly gained traction across the internet, and Griffin issued an apology on his Twitter account for using the pejorative language and claimed that he misspoke.
“I was shocked that it came out in the way that it did, and I immediately jumped on it and apologized because there’s no need to deny,” he said. “You messed up. You move forward, and I think that’s the easiest way to get over those types of things and to get back on your feet.”
The football season at both the college and professional level is undoubtedly a grind, and it requires a combination of dedication, passion and persistence few people possess. Robert Griffin III has garnered the reputation of being an “overpreparer,” often partaking in considerably more information than necessary to execute a broadcast. The information he consumes and conclusions he draws combined with his experience at both levels has cultivated him into a knowledgeable analyst who makes cogent, intelligible points on the air.
“I over-prepare for everything, and 70% of the information that I soak in going into a game or going into a broadcast for Monday Night Countdown, I don’t use because there’s just not enough air time,” Griffin III said. “There’s not enough opportunities to talk on it all.”
At the same time, he makes a concerted effort to make the most of his time with his family and separate himself from the field, engaging in activities including playing ping pong, going to the movies and supporting his children. He also embarks in charity work through his RG3 Foundation and strives to teach his daughters the importance of giving back. The mission of the nonprofit foundation is to discover and design programs for underprivileged youth, struggling military families and victims of domestic violence, and it has made a significant impact since it was launched in 2015.
“Trying to end food insecurity; making sure that our under-resourced youth have access to the things that they need just to survive – talking about food, clothes, books, the ability to learn [and] putting on these after-school programs,” Griffin elucidated in describing the organization’s mission. “We want to have an impact on our community. We mean that with everything in us and have shown that to be the true case of why we do this.”
Griffin’s wife, Grete, serves as the executive director of the foundation and also runs her own fitness business. Staying physically and mentally in shape is something they actively try to accomplish in their everyday lives, and lessons they are passing down to their daughters.
“I’m 33 years old right now, so if I want to continue to train every single day, I can do that for the next 10 years if I need to,” Griffin said. “Not taking hits and being physically fit is also a good thing for your own health, which is something me and my wife are extremely passionate about.”
Although his experience is in playing football and working in sports media, Robert Griffin III does not believe in limiting himself and would consider exploring opportunities outside of sports and entertainment. He wants to become the best broadcaster possible no matter where he is working in the industry and continue finding new ways to be distinctive en masse.
“We’re storytellers,” he said. “We’re here to break down things [and] to tell people a story the right way; things that people are interested in, and that expands across all media levels. We’re not closing the door on anything from that standpoint.”
While he was playing in the NFL, Griffin dealt with a variety of injuries that ultimately kept him off the football field and made it difficult to display his talents. Ranging from an ACL tear, shoulder scapula fracture and hairline fracture in his right thumb, staying healthy was a challenge for him over the time he played in the NFL.
Through surgeries and rehabilitation, he learned how to face and overcome these challenges. It has shaped him into the broadcaster and person he is today as he looks to set a positive example to aspiring football players and broadcasters everywhere.
“The eight-year career that I was able to have thus far didn’t come without roadblocks in the way [and] didn’t come without adversity. Learn from the adversity that you go through and learn from all the things and the lessons that you have that sports teaches you, and then go be able to present that to the masses.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Pac-12 Pushing Enhanced Access, Deion Sanders Reeks of Desperation
What good is enhanced access for TV broadcasts or the star power of Coach Prime if those game telecasts aren’t seen?
Getting experimental has drawn some attention to USFL and XFL broadcasts during each league’s seasons. The Pac-12 is apparently hoping the same approach will draw viewers to its football telecasts beginning this fall.
Last week, the conference announced that its broadcasts on ESPN, Fox Sports, and Pac-12 Networks would feature enhanced access for viewers. Head coaches will be interviewed during games. Players and coaches will be mic’d up during pregame warm-ups. Cameras will have pregame and halftime access to team locker rooms. And handheld camera operators will be allowed to film parts of the field and game experience which were previously prohibited.
Those familiar with USFL and XFL telecasts will likely see some similarities to the greater access that those leagues allow their TV partners. Coaches are mic’d up on the sidelines, giving viewers insight into play calls and strategy. Players are interviewed during the game, providing near-instant reactions to success or failure. Cameras in the replay booth show how officials decide to either overturn or uphold calls on the field.
What the Pac-12 intends to do with its broadcasts won’t go as far as the USFL and XFL. Access to coaches and players is being expanded but will still have limits. The conference doesn’t have to demonstrate familiarity, credibility, and legitimacy to fans and media.
Spring pro football leagues are a tough sell to mainstream sports fans accustomed to college football and the NFL from September through January. Especially when the level of play is subpar and rosters are filled with unfamiliar names, the USFL and XFL have to give fans more reasons to watch.
USC, UCLA, Washington, and Oregon are established national brands and regularly compete with the top teams in college football. Utah has played in the past two Rose Bowls, seen on millions of televisions during the New Year’s Day holiday. All five of those schools finished among the final AP Top 25 rankings of the 2022-23 season. USC quarterback Caleb Williams won the 2022 Heisman Trophy.
Yet the Pac-12 is promoting the gimmick of enhanced access because it needs to attract positive fan and media attention. Right now, most of the headlines the conference is generating aren’t flattering.
Notably, the Pac-12 needs a new media rights deal. Losing two of its most prominent schools, USC and UCLA, to the Big Ten in 2024 certainly isn’t helping with that. Rumors have persisted that Washington and Oregon could soon follow. Additionally, the Big 12 is reportedly eyeing Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah as possible expansion targets.
Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff is left to tout Colorado’s new head coach, Deion Sanders, as a selling point in a new media rights deal. Never mind that Sanders hasn’t coached a game in Boulder yet. The Buffaloes are also coming off a 1-11 season and have won more than five games only once since 2007.
If Coach Prime is as successful as Colorado hopes, how likely is he to jump to a better program and stronger conference? And as mentioned in a previous paragraph, even if Sanders sticks around, Colorado could be poached by the Big 12. How much value would Coach Prime provide for the Pac-12 then?
ESPN’s deal with the conference expires in July 2024, shortly before USC and UCLA defect, and reportedly has no intention of renewing. (ESPN could still agree to a package of lower-tier games for late-night broadcast windows, but Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reports that doesn’t appear likely.) Fox’s agreement is up at the same time, though prospects of a renewal seem more optimistic. The network needs Pac-12 games to fill its college football Saturday inventory.
The options from there aren’t promising. CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd reports that current speculation has USA Network, part of the NBCUniversal conglomerate, as a possible landing spot. According to The Athletic, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff believes that the conference’s next media rights deal will have a large streaming component with Amazon and Apple TV+ mentioned as potential partners.
A streaming partner might be good from a financial standpoint, helping produce some of the revenue that ESPN has cut off. But forcing fans to find your product and asking them to pay for another TV platform isn’t a good way to draw interest. It may well be a path to irrelevance and obscurity. That’s not going to compete with the Big Ten and SEC, or even the Big 12.
And as The Athletic’s Chris Vannini points out, how can streaming be expected to save a conference like the Pac-12 when it isn’t even helping TV networks (or standalone providers) right now? Disney is losing money with Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu. NBCUniversal has lost billions on Peacock, as has CBS with Paramount+. Maybe the Pac-12 won’t care about that because it got paid. But there’s little chance for growth.
OK, Lincoln Riley, Chip Kelly, Dan Lanning, and Kyle Whittingham could be interviewed during games. But they probably won’t say much interesting during a game. Caleb Williams, Bo Nix, and Michael Penix Jr. will be mic’d up during warm-ups. Maybe we’ll see coaches and players going crazy in the locker room at halftime. Just remember that Peyton Manning said most players only have time to use the bathroom and have a snack. There’s your compelling television.
What good is enhanced access for TV broadcasts or the star power of Deion Sanders if those game telecasts aren’t seen by large audiences? To say otherwise is desperate. That’s exactly where the Pac-12 is.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.
ESPN Deal Used to Mean Stability for ACC, Now It Means Anything But
It was April 19, 1775 when the first shots of war were fired on battlefields in Lexington and Concord that would send shockwaves across the world. Some brave soul among a group of rebel farmers and blacksmiths, doctors and lawyers literally pulled the trigger on what would become known as “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”. Indeed, the world would never be the same.
The college athletics version of that event was June 11, 2010. On that day, regents at the University of Nebraska officially applied for Big Ten membership and were unanimously approved by the other eleven schools (if the number in the conference name not matching the number of schools in that conference is something that bothers you, this column may not be for you). From that day forward, we have never really exited the “expansion era”.
One conference that has gone largely untouched in that time is the ACC. Only Maryland has left the ACC since 2010, heading to the Big Ten, and the conference has added Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville in that same window. That is significant when you consider only the SEC and Big Ten have avoided any departures in this era. Every other major conference has seen great turbulence while those three conferences have primarily seen only growth.
That trend may actually continue for the ACC and that may not be a net positive for the conference or the ACC members. This is thanks to the long term grant of rights deal the conference schools negotiated with ESPN. The grant of rights means ESPN holds the broadcast rights to all home games of the current ACC schools, and do so for the next 13 years.
When the deal was signed in 2016, the 20 year media rights deal seemed like a win for the ACC, creating stability in a time of great instability. Now, what seemed like a “must have purchase” may be the impulse buy that the league schools regret for decades.
Put simply, the ACC has been lapped in the media rights race by the Big Ten, SEC and even the Big 12. At best, the ACC schools are working at a $10-15 Million per year deficit when compared to Big 12 schools. At worst, they are operating at a much larger $30-$40 Million annual deficit when compared to Big Ten and SEC programs. It would be a battle of monumental proportions for the ACC to compete on the same level as those other conferences at that large of a disadvantage.
The conference’s options are slim. ESPN has a deal that is locked for 13 more years, what benefit would it be to them to renegotiate just so the ACC can compete? For instance, it would require $140 Million annually from ESPN just to place the ACC in the same financial neighborhood as the Big 12 Conference. What would be the benefit to ESPN in doing that?
The other option for ACC schools would be to bang the departure drum. Almost all legal analysts have painted a very grim picture for the schools that would be itching to leave. The exit fee is $120 million and may get the schools some nice parting gifts but does not give them their media rights. Their home game broadcast rights will still be a part of the ESPN deal with ACC. That greatly reduces a departing school’s value to any other conference.
Maybe ESPN is willing to broker a deal for a departing school if it is going to a conference, such as the SEC, that has a large rights deal with ESPN. If one of the schools desires a departure to the Big Ten, who has large deals with networks not named ESPN, one would have to think The Worldwide Leader would be in less of a deal-making mood.
Some league athletics directors, led by Florida State’s Michael Alford, are suggesting teams be incentivized for success. Breaking the code; rather than equal distribution, the power schools want a bigger share of the money. This is where Wake Forest points out that it is all they can do to exceed football expectations on their current stipend, what will become of them if that money shrinks? It seems that conferences and leagues that steer away from an equally shared revenue model have had a difficult time making that work long term.
Maybe the ACC teams that are ready to punch out could flash back to the period of time our country was in with the events we started this column remembering. They have a team in Boston, go throw some tea in the harbor and revolt, have a modern day Boston Tea Party. As it stands now, there are several ACC members that want to leave the party they are part of. Their only problem is they are all dressed up with nowhere to go.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.