ABC, ESPN, Fox license games; new conference network also planned

The Pacific 10 Conference is poised to announce the licensing of marquee football and basketball games to ABC, ESPN and Fox in a 12-year, $3 billion deal effective in 2012 — a move that also preserves the ability of member schools to create their own sports network.

In doing so, the Pac-10 — which officially becomes the Pac-12 on July 1 with the formal addition of Colorado and Utah — has set itself up with the most lucrative TV rights deal of any college conference. The $250 million-per-school annual revenue from rights licensing, independent of Pac-12 Network income, reportedly outstrips the Big 10 ($220 million) and Southeastern Conference ($205 million).

By comparison, the Pac-10 made approximately $60 million from event TV rights in 2010-11.

An official announcement is expected Wednesday. The winning networks outbid NBCU, which could have used cabler Versus (which in recent years joined Fox Sports Net in airing Pac-10 football) as an outlet for Pac-12 broadcasts. Turner Sports was also considered a contender.

Pac-12 fans will need to keep their local listings nearby for guidance. The licensed football games will be spread across ABC, Fox, FX, ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU and include some primetime games on the broadcast nets (ESPN alone will have four Thursday night and four Friday night games per year, in addition to Saturday night broadcasts in coordination with ABC). Men’s basketball games will be licensed to the same ESPN channels, with Fox Sports Net subbing for Fox/FX.

The new Pac-12 football championship will alternate year-to-year between ESPN and Fox, as will the existing Pac-10 men’s basketball tournament (with FX also playing a role). Fox gets the inaugural football title tilt in 2012, while the 2012-13 men’s basketball tourney will be on ESPN.

ESPN will also broadcast other Pac-12 sports, but the vast majority of Pac-12 programming — including some football and hoops — will end up on the new Pac-12 Network as well as a companion digital outlet.

The new network will have to find its way onto existing cable and satellite distributors, but given the popularity of its older sibling, the Big 10 Network, there should be plenty of interest. In a sign of how favorable the environment has become for regional college sports, the Pac-10/Pac-12 will retain ownership of the new network — in contrast to the Big 10 Network, partly owned by Fox, and ESPN’s new Longhorn Network centered on the U. of Texas.

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