Pac-12 fans from the Pacific Northwest to the Rocky Mountains are hopping mad. March Madness is heating up but you wouldn't know it if you live in Pac-12 country.
Among the power conferences (and we're counting the Power 5 in football plus the Big East and American Athletic), the Pac-12's tournament games will be the least visible -- no matter where you live. Of the 11 conference games, eight are carried on the Pac-12 Network, including one of the semifinals, and the rest are on FS1.
By now you probably already know that compared to the Big Ten Network (BTN) and SEC Network, the Pac-12's distribution both nationally and within the conference's own footprint is abysmal. Whereas the BTN and SECN reach around 70 million households each around the country, the Pac-12 Network is only in 12 million homes.
If you don't live in the six states where Pac-12 schools are located, there is little chance that you'll see much of the conference tournament, which begins Wednesday. That probably includes the NCAA selection committee, which will be holed up in an Indianapolis hotel room this weekend.
But this gets better ... er, worse. Even if you're a Pac-12 fan with access to the Pac-12 Network, you're still not going to get all the Pac-12 tournament games this week. Now in its fourth season of existence, the network has heavily regionalized its content. That means if you live in the Pacific Northwest, you will end up with some taped rerun of Washington-Washington State or Oregon-Oregon State instead of live USC-UCLA on Wednesday.
Yep, that's right. Despite the fact that the Pac-12 has both national and regional feeds, most local carriers only provide access to the regional feed. That means in almost all cases, the fans only get to see live games involving teams in their region. If you're a Stanford fan living in Phoenix, unless the Cardinal are playing Arizona or ASU, you're out of luck.
This ludicrous programming model helps to explain why that while the BTN and SECN are bringing in close to $10 million annually for each conference school in the Big Ten and SEC, the Pac-12 Network is barely clearing $1 million per school (before expenses). The Pac-12 Network certainly isn't picking up any new subscribers and is losing some of the few that it has.
And the future looks bleaker. The Pac-12 still does not have a distribution agreement with DirecTV, the biggest sports content provider nationally among cable/satellite carriers. DirecTV was bought last summer by AT&T, one of the Pac-12's main business partners, and yet commissioner Larry Scott has so far failed to cut a deal -- and there's
no end in sight.
It's almost a certainty that the Pac-12 Network will enter its fifth football season with no hope of expanding its distribution nationally. There is actually a risk of shrinking, as AT&T plans to phase out its U-Verse service, which carries the Pac-12 Network, in favor of DirecTV.
It didn't have to be this way, but the Pac-12's predicament is here because Scott misplayed his hand from the network's inception in 2012. Instead of seeking the broadest distribution agreements possible, he chose to sign on smaller distributors first while antagonizing DirecTV by demanding Pac-12 fans to switch providers.
Four years later, not many fans have made the switch and the conference's refusal to take on a media partner leaves it with no leverage. While the BTN (with Fox) and SECN (with ESPN) have serious clout behind their negotiating power, the Pac-12 has none because its insistence on 100 percent ownership by the conference.
This is the other issue with the Pac-12 Network -- it's run more like a cause than a business. It likes to boast that it carries 850 live events per year, but most of these are games involving women's or non-revenue sports that few care about. And now of the handful of games, say, from the Pac-12 tournament, that fans are actually interested in, it's making it impossible for them to watch.
No matter how you view it, the Pac-12 Network is an epic failure.