It seemed like a great idea at the time. The Pac-12 was launching its own TV network, joining, at the time, the Big Ten atop the conference marketability ladder. We were going to be able to see live Pac-12 events all the time, year-round.
We were wrong.
Nevermind the financial downfalls of the Pac-12 Network, and the constant frustration of DirecTV customers about the conference's inability to work out a distribution plan with them. That's just part of the story. But I'm here to talk about how the Pac-12 has let their fans down.
It's all become more prevalent as the 2015-16 academic year has progressed. During football season, it wasn't plainly obvious that certain cable subscribers were going to be left out in the cold when it came to programming choices. As a COX subscriber in Tucson, I don't remember there being a live football game that wasn't available to watch on my television. They were just on at weird times, which is another issue with the Pac-12 TV deal.
But then basketball season came around.
I think the first time I noticed what was going on was when I was trying to watch a Utah/Washington men's basketball game. I flipped over to the only Pac-12 Network channel available on my cable box, which seems to be Pac-12 Arizona. I just sort of expected a basketball game to pop up on my TV, but what I got was an ASU gymnastics re-run.
Not a live gymnastics event. A re-run. From nearly a week earlier.
Alright. Maybe this was a one-time programming error. Surely the Pac-12 isn't going to force me to watch re-runs of Olympic sports while live men's basketball games are going on around the conference.
Man was I wrong.
It was nearly impossible to watch a basketball game this year that didn't involve either Arizona or ASU, unless they happened to be on ESPN or Fox Sports 1.
And yes, I know, you can stream just about any game on Pac-12.com. I get it. But as someone who uses their computer throughout the day to write and do other things, letting a basketball game take up half of my workspace on the screen is not an option I'm going to choose a majority of the time.
It got worse during the Pac-12 Tournament. The day before, we all thought that we weren't going to be able to watch any of the games because COX only offered Pac-12 Arizona, and that wasn't going to have the non-Arizona, non-ASU games on it. We were about to miss the conference's biggest event because of their TV deal.
To avoid that problem, COX gave a "free preview" of the national feed, placating its Tucson fans, who have a more vested interest in the Pac-12 Tournament than pretty much the rest of the conference.
But if there's that ability, why isn't it always there? And why is COX, an alleged founder of this network, not offering it?
"Our desire is for all of our providers to carry Pac-12 National and Pac-12 Regional network, and have both of those be on basic service," Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said at the Pac-12 Tournament this year. "But we've not been able to mandate that, so each of our providers is a little bit different."
And why has this suddenly become an issue this year instead of in the first few years of the network's existence? Because the Pac-12 is progressively trying to put in worse ideas for this TV package.
"This really dates to the original conception when we announced that we were doing Pac-12 NetworkSS," Scott explained, putting an emphasis on the s. "July of 2011, we announced the network, and we did it side-by-side with Time Warner, Comcast, COX, and Brighthouse, and the idea was that we were going to have an unprecedented number of events. We're the Pac-12. We're the winningest conference in the country. We win more NCAA Championships across all sports, and we wanted to offer a prolific amount of content."
"In order to accommodate that many events, we had to have multiple networks on multiple channels. So the original idea all along was that the Pac-12 National network would have every major event. Every football game. Every men's basketball game. And Olympic sports events that were of most major significance."
"What we were required to do was differentiate what was on the National network and what was on the Regional network, but we were given a few years to get there," Scott continued. "In year four, we really had to flip the switch, and there really is distinct content on the Pac-12 National and Pac-12 Regional networks, and now we're going through a process to make sure the National service is available in our six-state footprint, but it is offered to the rest of the country."
Oh great. So the rest of the country can watch the Pac-12's events, but not the people that actually live within the boundaries of the Pac-12, who actually care about it. That's perfect. Thanks a lot.
I get the regionalization idea, but when you're running week-old re-runs of sports that aren't going to draw eyes as opposed to live, revenue sport events, are you really making the best financial decision for the conference? And the best decision for your fans?
Let's take this past weekend for example. The Arizona baseball team was in Berkeley for a three-game series. You know, Berkeley, right down the street from the Pac-12 offices. Yet the only game of the three games fans could watch was on ESPNU. No live stream online. No Pac-12 Regional offering. Just the Arizona "Spring Game" from over a month ago.
On Saturday morning, Arizona's Lauren Marker was in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Women's Tennis Championships. You would think this would be on TV, even the local Arizona feed, right? I mean, it's a conference tournament. But instead, Pac-12 Arizona was showing a 2009 Pac-10 Tournament game. Are you serious?
I'm a college baseball guy, and up until this year, I could turn on the TV and see the Oregon State's and UCLA's of the world, and actually watch the games. Now, I get softball re-runs, or Pac-12 football report in April, or more Spring Game re-runs. How many times do I have to watch Arizona run a glorified practice?
Meanwhile, SEC baseball, Big Ten baseball, BYU baseball, and even Conference USA baseball are all more accessible on my television, and really, on my computer too. Maybe this is why the Pac-12 is getting left in the dust when it comes to baseball awards and recognition this year, and the conference will be lucky to get more than three teams in the NCAA Tournament.
Look Pac-12, you claim you're making the best financial decision by having more networks with specialized programming for your six regions. But are you? Are you really? How's that two-month-old spring game rating these days? How did those gymnastics replays do? A lot of people tuning into your football studio show, which has also gone downhill in quality? And we know the conference isn't bringing in the money from this you thought it was going to.
Stop being stubborn with your views of this. Just give the fans what they want. Live games that matter. Not some dopey regional special from a month ago. That's all we want.