Tuesday November 28, 2023

As Networks Pull Out, Amazon ‘Playing Hardball’ With Pac-12

  • Amazon holding out for the best for games, financial terms.
  • Disney will be more ‘selective’ on sports rights, says CEO Bob Iger.
USC and UCLA departing the PAC-12 is devalued the conference's media right's leverage.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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The silk gloves have come off in media rights negotiations between Amazon and the Pac-12 Conference. And here comes the steel fist that’s helped make Amazon the country’s dominant e-commerce company.  

Amazon is “playing hardball” in media rights negotiations with the hapless college conference, sources told Front Office Sports.

The tech giant is holding out for the best game matchups and best financial terms, sources said. 

Founder Jeff Bezos’ Amazon didn’t grow to $513 billion in annual revenue by playing nice. If the Pac-12 thinks it’s going to get rich from Amazon, they’re mistaken, sources said.  

And the more bidders who drop out of negotiations, the more leverage Amazon has over the conference. 

Both CBS Sports and Warner Bros. Discovery Sports are out of bidding, according to Brett McMurphy of Action Network.

All this comes, of course, just days after the conference issued a statement saying they expected to ink a new media rights package “in the near future” — and characterized the negotiations as “positive.”

That leaves Amazon, Fox Sports, NBC, and ESPN among a dwindling list of suitors for the Conference of Champions.

The problem for the Pac-12 is most of the big media entities have inked football deals in recent years. Or they’re hoarding cash as the U.S. advertising market weakens and an economic recession looms. 

In August, the Big Ten finalized a seven-year rights deal with Fox, NBC, and CBS worth a record $7 billion. So put down Fox as a longshot.

NBC is all-in with the Big Ten and Notre Dame. 

The Peacock network’s new Big Ten deal runs through the 2029-2030 season. Its longtime deal for Fighting Irish home games runs through the 2025 season. So they can probably be counted out, too. 

Amazon already has its big pro football deal in place with the NFL, paying $1 billion a year to exclusively stream “Thursday Night Football” through 2033. Do they need the Pac-12? Probably only on their own terms.

Then there’s Walt Disney Co. The majority owner of ESPN has outbid competitors over the decades for college football rights. But Disney has suddenly discovered the virtues of frugality. 

During a conference call with analysts, returning chief executive officer Bob Iger warned the entertainment giant will be more “selective” about expensive sports rights.

“I’ve had long conversations about this with (ESPN president) Jimmy Pitaro. And we’ve got some decisions that we have to make coming up — not anything particularly large, but on a few things, and we’re simply going to have to get more selective,” Iger said.

After all, ESPN already re-upped with the Big 12. And the network has expressed interest in retaining NCAA championship media rights, sources previously told FOS. The NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament alone will likely be worth more than twice the $34 million a year that ESPN is currently paying.

The Pac-12’s current 12-year deals with Fox and ESPN run until 2024 and carry an average annual value of $250 million. 

But USC and UCLA are bolting for the rival Big Ten in 2024. The loss of those two prominent schools, and most of the Los Angeles TV market, is weighing heavily on Commissioner George Kliavkoff’s negotiating options.

Both the Pac-12 and Amazon declined to comment.

Editor’s Note: FOS reporter Amanda Christovich contributed to this story.

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