It's been well documented that the Pac-12 Conference is lagging behind its Power 5 peers in terms of generating revenue and distributing money to its member schools.
The conference may be in a good position in the future, however, and leaders are hoping the Pac-12's latest move will pay off.
This week, the Pac-12 announced that it has hired the Raine Group, an investment bank that focuses on sports, media and technology, to help the conference find a long-term partner to help, according to a press release, "maximize the value of its full portfolio of media assets."
The Pac-12 is the only conference in the country that has 100 percent control of its own media company, the Pac-12 Networks. The conference currently has media rights agreements with ESPN and Fox through 2024, and at that point will be in position to capitalize on the ever-changing media landscape.
The ACC and SEC both have deals with ESPN that run into the mid-2030s and the Big 12 has a media rights deal that runs through 2025. The Big Ten's deal with ESPN, Fox and CBS goes through 2023, but the conference has an agreement with the Big Ten Network that runs through 2032.
While the Pac-12 model has been criticized, the fact that the conference has 100 percent control could wind up being advantageous as it looks beyond 2024.
"It actually in some ways puts us in a position of strength of owning 100 percent of our network and looking at some new ways of doing things," said Colorado chancellor Philip DiStefano, who is the chairman of the Pac-12's CEO group, which is the governing body of the conference. "The technology and how individuals are watching college sports these days, and the future of that, is certainly going to change. That's why I'm saying that in some ways we're operating from this position of strength because we have some time to work on these entrepreneurial activities before we have to make some final decisions in 2023-24."
The Raine Group will help to provide the Pac-12 with some options and ideas for the future. DiStefano said that in the next few months, the Pac-12's CEO group should have some results back from the Raine Group, allowing the governing body to begin discussing some options.
"I don't think we know exactly (what the future holds)," DiStefano said. "This is why we're doing this exploratory study, to take the long view. I don't know what the outcome is going to be until we get information from the Raine Group."
Last month, the Oregonian reported that the Pac-12 is looking into the idea of finding private equity partners. In exchange for a $500 million investment, the private investors would own 10 percent of the newly formed media rights holding company, called "Pac-12 NewCo." That $500 million investment would be distributed among the Pac-12 schools.
The Raine Group will help the Pac-12 find potential investors and explore the long-term possibility of that model.
While generating revenue is important, DiStefano said that is just "one piece," of the Pac-12's long-term goal.
"What we want to look at is, what are options that are very different from options that we traditionally think of when we look at our media rights?" he said. "And, really to take the long view, rather than short view. Certainly revenue is going to be a part of it, but it's not going to be the only part of it."
DiStefano said the Pac-12 must have "strategic patience" as it looks beyond 2024, because there is time to develop a long-term play.
"We have a few more years before the contract runs out," he said. "Let's be innovative and entrepreneurial about what we can do that would look differently from what we've done in the past.
"We were aligned as a conference because we do see this as an opportunity to take a look at what our options are prior to decision-making time."