Former MGM executive eager to lead Pac-12

George Kliavkoff was unanimously chosen by school presidents

New Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff
New Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff

In the four months since the Pac-12 announced it would hire a new commissioner, many potential candidates were debated.

George Kliavkoff wasn’t one of them, but he became the popular choice of the Pac-12’s search committee.

On Thursday, Kliavkoff was announced as the new Pac-12 commissioner, effective July 1. Currently the president of entertainment and sports for MGM Resorts International, Kliavkoff was unanimously chosen by Pac-12 presidents and chancellors as the successor to Larry Scott, whose 12-tenure will end June 30 with one year remaining on his contract. Kliavkoff is receiving a five-year contract.

“I believe I am transitioning from the best job in entertainment to the best job in sports,” Kliavkoff said in a virtual press conference.

Although a surprise choice for many, Kliavkoff has an extensive and diverse background and that attracted the Pac-12 search committee, which included Colorado chancellor Phil DiStefano.

“(Kliavkoff is) a highly experienced and pioneering sports, entertainment, and digital media executive,” said Oregon president Michael Schill, president of the search committee.

“Intercollegiate athletics in general, and the Pac-12 specifically, is at a critical crossroads. We believe that George is the right person to meet today’s challenges, but even more importantly, the challenges of the future. … He is very much a new prototype for a sports commissioner. I firmly believe that had we not hired George, we may have been competing against him in a later year.”

In addition to his work at MGM, Kliavkoff has been a board member at BetMGM, was on the board of governors of the WNBA and formerly managed the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces. In previous stops, he co-led Hearst Entertainment and Syndication; was the first chief digital officer at NBCUniversal, where he partnered with News Corp to launch Hulu; and was executive vice president for Major League Baseball Advanced Media.

CU athletic director Rick George hasn’t had a chance to get to know Kliavkoff but is excited about the hire. He said Thursday was a celebratory day for the Pac-12.

“I think he’s going to be great for us,” George said. “I’m excited about it. I know my peers are going to be excited about it. I’m looking forward to his leadership and working with him.”

Scott was heavily criticized in recent years for various reasons, including the Pac-12’s struggles in football and men’s basketball, as well as the conference falling woefully behind its Power 5 peers in conference revenue and national exposure.

Kliavkoff addressed those issues and said he has three immediate priorities: “First, we will protect and support our student-athletes. Second, we will make decisions to optimize revenue for our member institutions, including renegotiating our media distribution deals. Third, we will do everything we can at the conference level to make our teams more competitive in revenue-generating sports, especially football.

“I’m going to measure my success against those three criteria.”

While Kliavkoff said the Pac-12’s institutions and student-athletes are strengths, he didn’t shy away from the issues plaguing the conference.

“The greatest weakness, if we’re honest with ourselves, is the number of years it has been since we won a football or men’s basketball championship, and we’re going to do everything we can at the conference level to fix that,” he said.

The Pac-12 has not had a national champion in football since Southern California won back-to-back titles in 2003 and 2004 (the 2004 title was vacated because of NCAA violations) or a national champion in men’s basketball since Arizona in 1997.

In the seven-year history of the four-team College Football Playoff, the Pac-12 has had just two participants and has been shut out of the CFP since Washington’s trip in 2016. The conference has had just two Final Four men’s basketball teams since 2008 (Oregon in 2017, UCLA this year).

Scott often touted the success of the Olympic sports in the Pac-12. A rower during his years at Boston University, Kliavkoff has great respect for the Olympic sports, but said Thursday, “I want to be clear: we know where the bread is buttered. We’re focused on the revenue sports and winning in men’s basketball and football.”

Kliavkoff also went on record to state that the Pac-12 is in favor of expanding the CFP, as well as developing guidelines for name, image and likeness.

“We think that both CFP expansion and NIL legislation are good for college sports fans, good for our student-athletes, and can be a significant competitive advantage for the Pac-12,” he said.

Although Kliavkoff doesn’t have experience working on college campuses or in football, George and Schill both expressed their confidence in him to be the right man for the job.

“He is the sort of person that we need for this decade, and the decades beyond,” Schill said. “He’s a visionary leader and we are honored that he’s going to become our next Pac-12 commissioner.

“The conference is fortunate to have attracted a leader of his caliber.”