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Who leaked that the Pac-12 was talking to Apple? And why that is important

The New York Post story of Pac-12 negotiations with Apple TV+ landed like a ‘lead balloon’ around the league

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Utah running back Micah Bernard is tackled by Oregon defensive back Trikweze Bridges on Nov. 19, 2022, in Eugene, Ore.

Utah running back Micah Bernard is tackled by Oregon defensive back Trikweze Bridges Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Eugene, Ore. Off the field of play, rumors swirl throughout the league as to who the conference will partner with in a new media rights deal.

Andy Nelson, Associated Press

The leak to the New York Post that Apple is a potential media partner for the Pac-12 certainly coated this story in intrigue.

The fallout was quick and ugly.

Who leaked it?

Why was it leaked?

How did Post reporter Andrew Marchand find and expand this Apple/Pac-12 news?

Was it a deliberate move to examine the fallout? Or could it be sabotage from within or without the Pac-12? 

Those are questions Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff must be asking his staff and presidents council. It came a week after the group released a statement of solidarity as the league searches to lock up a broadcast deal.

Kliavkoff has to feel like a pinata, getting spun and hit from all sides.

On Wednesday, veteran Oregon and Pac-12 sportswriter James Crepea of the Oregonian and Fox Sports took to Twitter blasting the thought of swapping linear TV for streaming league games and the challenge of building audiences competing with prime TV spots dominated by the SEC, Big Ten, ACC and even the Big 12. 

Tweeted Crepea, “Live sports rights have never been more valuable.

“College football may be its most popular of all-time. The 12-team playoff starts in 2024.

“The Pac-12’s best media option might not include linear television? Don’t walk. Don’t pack anything. Run. All gas. No brakes. Get out.”

That’s a voice from the northwest corner.

In the southwest corner of the league in Tucson, longtime Pac-12 critic Jason Scheer joined in, tweeting “I’ll just leave it at this. If Pac-12 schools think an all-streaming deal is the answer, they deserve everything they get. No reason to discuss it beyond that as of now.”

Then came a national voice, Chris Vannini of The Athletic, who said the news hit Pac-12 fans like a lead balloon.

“The Pac-12 needs leverage, but Amazon and Apple aren’t that. A move to heavy streaming would dramatically decrease game viewership and threaten to speed the conference into irrelevancy,” wrote Vannini.

“In a sport based around recruiting and donors, people need to find your games easily. ESPN knows this. It’s why Conference USA rushed back to ESPN as part of its new TV deal and away from streaming places like Stadium. Even if Amazon and Apple, which have been more prudent with streaming spending than other places, overpay for the sake of content on a potential sports-only app, it’s an incredible risk for a conference. This isn’t Major League Soccer.”

The leak did serve a purpose. It kind of negated the letter of solidarity sent out a week ago and began stirring up dissatisfaction in Pac-12 circles.

The criticism didn’t just come from Big 12 territory, but the Pac-12’s own backyard. In Big 12 circles, it was more of an extended exercise in mocking.

It came as gas on the fire of an antsy feeling in the league that progress is not only too slow, but ineffective.  

The leak was kind of like a checkmate move. You call for solidarity? Here’s a match to that idea.

Who benefits from the leak?

If frustration mounts and the solidarity breaks, Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark’s search for more Pacific time zone teams in an expansion gains more choices, led by Oregon and Washington as top valued brands. A Four Corners (Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, Colorado) acquisition would be a close second.

A disgruntled Pac-12 administrator acquainted with TV negotiations could have dropped a note to the Post to sow discontent and blow up the efforts so they’d be free to look after themselves.

A media company like ESPN, Amazon or Disney may have tipped off the Post, hoping anxious presidents would get rattled and thus be low-balled for a deal.

There is little if any motivation for Kliavkoff or anyone in his office to leak this Apple negotiation.

That brings up the question, of all these entities, who would have connections to the New York Post? Yormark could lead the list since he worked with the Brooklyn Nets NBA franchise.

CBS Sports.com college columnist Dennis Dodd asks in his latest installment, “What is the Pac-12 actually selling to a media partner when departure of UCLA and USC just took a huge chunk of the league’s value to the Big Ten?”

He postulates that TV folks are looking harder at what rivalry games bring rather than the number connected to TV markets. He says the passion of those college rivalries is a desired jewel for TV moguls, thus the USC-UCLA package to the Big Ten.

That leaves Oregon, a school with three of the top five rivalry TV games in the Pac-12, as a prime candidate to be bundled with Washington for some league to poach or as a foundation for the Pac-12 to stay intact.

Perhaps a rivalry seeker leaked the news.

Or, it could be New York Post’s Marchand was simply doing an astute job with sources and contacts. Marchand does the “Marshand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast” with John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal. Both have extensive contacts and access to media moguls, public relations and marketing people. Maybe there’s no conspiracy at play and instead just good work.

Wrote Dodd, “It could be the Pac-12 is in this position because there just isn’t that much interest right now. Fox and ESPN combined to spend billions to wrap up the Big Ten and Big 12. CBS and Turner are reportedly not interested in the Pac-12.

“The Pac-12 thought it had leverage going last among the Power Five conferences in this cycle, but the opposite has proven true. Any streamers ready to dip their toe in the water are either offering low-dollar deals or willing to wait until the next negotiating cycle.”

Most all believe the Pac-12 is in a poor spot to negotiate deals right now because the Big 12 jumped the league in renewing its TV deals. Also, a downturn in the economy, filled with layoffs and dwindling subscription numbers by streaming companies has added to the problem.

Who leaked to the New York Post is a key to how this story is trending. Find that out, you find the motivation for why this talk of Apple TV+ landed with a huge thud, burning the Pac-12 memo of solidarity.

It is fascinating. 

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Pac-12 logo at Sun Devil Stadium during a game between Arizona State and Kent State, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in Tempe, Ariz.

Ralph Freso, Associated Press