Amazon exec ‘very interested in big collegiate sports’; This is good news for Pac-12

It has been 112 days since the Pac-12 began pursuing a media rights agreement in its post-Los Angeles existence. The process is very fluid, but we suspect closer to the finish line than the starting gate.

One aspect of the negotiations hasn’t changed: the potential for a distribution agreement with Big Tech — the first of its kind within the Power Five.

If anything, a deal with Amazon seems more likely today than it did at the end of July, when Commissioner George Kliavkoff said the conference had “received significant interest from potential partners, including both established companies and new traditional TV broadcasters, and most notably digital media partners”.

Whether or not the Pac-12 is partnered with Amazon, the concept itself is intriguing. The hotline has previously explored how the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football” on the streaming giants could impact the Pac-12 strategy and the merits of an all-in partnership with Amazon at the remaining 10 campuses.

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But three developments have added layers to the calculation:

1. Marie Donoghue, vice president of global sports video at Amazon, hinted that the company might add college football to its distribution portfolio.

“Actually, we’re very interested,” Donaghue told the Marchand and Ourand podcast.

“Of course we are not talking about specific negotiations, but we will continue to knock. The thing about the sport is that there are a lot of marquees out there. We are very interested in big collegiate sports. Anyone would be.”

Amazon tried to secure the rights to the Big Ten’s football inventory this summer, but the conference signed with Fox, NBC and CBS instead.

With the SEC and ACC media rights locked for years, and the Big 12 likely to renew their deals with ESPN and Fox, the Pac-12 is Amazon’s easiest entry point.

2. “Thursday Night Football” shows are a hit with advertisers and attract younger viewers, according to Amazon data.

The company just announced that it will be showing an NFL game next season on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year.

“You lower the average age of your audience. The consumer’s ability to spend is also increasing,” said Jeremy Carey, chief investment officer at marketing agency Optimum Sports, during an Advertising Week event in New York last week.

“The ability to communicate with (Amazon’s) sales force and expand their reach is tremendous.”

3. The concept of a partnership with Amazon has become increasingly palatable to Pac-12 conference and campus officials as the Thursday Night Football experiment continues.

There were no technical problems. The production value is excellent. And ratings, while down since the season opener, are impressive enough to suggest that Amazon could be a viable platform for Pac-12 football.

However, the conference must be smart. It can’t use Amazon as its sole delivery tool for its football inventory. Transmissions on traditional college football networks—both wireless and wired—are critical.

The hotline has claimed since June 30, when USC and UCLA announced their departures to the Big Ten in 2024, that the remaining 10 schools were more likely to stick together than break up.

Similarly, the most likely outcome of the media rights negotiations is a partnership with Amazon or Apple for a bundle of soccer and basketball games.

Amazon appears to be a better fit because its NFL agreement creates synergy with college football. Additionally, the scope of Amazon’s stores gives the Pac-12 a wider range of revenue opportunities.

As a result, we imagine three scenarios:

  • Amazon decides the Pac-12 doesn’t have enough compelling content to warrant a serious bid.
  • Amazon makes a serious offer, but the Pac-12 only opts to do business with traditional partners. (This is highly unlikely.)
  • Amazon is working with Pac-12 under a joint distribution agreement with ESPN and possibly Fox.

(One option: use the Apple Cup, which is played on Friday of Thanksgiving weekend and always gets impressive ratings, as the second half of a doubleheader featuring the NFL’s Black Friday game. The move would be in Washington, Amazon’s home state , sure to go down well. )

On so many levels, the Pac-12 is not the NFL. The success of “Thursday Night Football” would not translate directly to Pac-12 shows on Amazon, either for ratings or advertising.

But in this case the future is the key to the present.

The Pac-12 doesn’t judge a partnership with Amazon on how it would be received today; it rates Amazon for 2024 and 2026 and beyond.

Given the amazing speed of technological change and the way fans consume sports media — not to mention big tech’s West Coast roots — a partnership with Amazon in the latter part of the decade might feel as normal as it does feels unnatural today.

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