(To the tune of “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers)
On a warm summer’s eve
In a manse in San Francisco
I met up with a gambler
He was looking slick and chic.
We both took a flute
Of champagne from his table
And as we were sippin’
He began to speak.
He said, “Son, I’ve made a livin’
Out of fabricatin’ and a fibbin’
Lying to so-called smart folk
And getting damn well paid,
So I hope you don’t mind
While my bubbly you’re a drinkin’
If I talk about a wager
With their money that I made?”
Then he handed me a bottle
Of fancy wine to swallow
And went on to say things
Well, they made me want to weep.
And when he was finished
I asked, “How could so-called smart folks
Follow advice that’s so damn hollow
And make a gamble this damned weak?
I ain’t that smart myself, Sir,
But I do know ’bout gamblin’,
And if you’re not too high and mighty
Here’s some advice you should keep.
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And when to run.
And I’ve got to say in this case
You’ve got no way to save face
Sorry my slick friend
But your damage can’t be undone.”
Larry Bets Big
In 2012, Larry Scott convinced his bosses to make a big-time futures bet.
“We don’t need no stinkin’ media partners, we’ll set up our own network, the Pac-12 Network (PN) and go it alone. And at the end of the day, we’ll score big bank. The fact that we are going opposite the way of the B1G with Fox, and the SEC with ESPN, a mere bagatelle. No carriage agreements in place? No problem. Don’t ever forget that I, Larry Scott, played tennis at HARVARD.”
But was the PN risky enough for Larry and his bosses? Hell no! Why not double down? Why not negotiate coterminous expiration dates for conference broadcast deals with ESPN, Fox, Comcast, et. al.? Sure, the B1G and SEC will both be negotiating new media deals in 2023, a year before the Pac-12. But this simply will give the Conference of (Olympic sports) Champions time to survey the situation and make the B1G and SEC look like business buffoons come 2024 — the year the Pac-12 scores! What could possibly go wrong?
With the exception of the Duke Brothers in the movie Trading Places, would anyone with a scintilla of brain matter make an all-in futures bet like this?
“Feelin’ good, Billy Ray?”
“Ah, not so much, Larry.”
A Deal with Disney?
Even though the PN has yet to come close to Larry’s lowest income projections and is functionally insolvent, why not triple down! After all, it’s OPM (other people’s money)! So why not, in 2019, reject a media rights offer from a lightweight like Disney/ESPN? Yes, ESPN would have been the distribution agent for the PN, assuring immediate access to DirecTV and other major carriers. And yes, the conference could have locked up a media rights deal through 2030 and given the ESPN college football media cartel a reason to promote it. But come on, man! Why take a Bristol in the hand when there are two Amazons in the bush?
How could any of this go wrong?
First, any streaming agreement with a big-time tech company is pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking. How did Larry’s partial sale of conference media rights work out? Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins were not the only ones who failed to bid on The Silence of the Larry’s. The only cannibal fed? Larry’s favorite investment banker.
Second, no matter how good the down side risk analysis of any venture, you simply cannot factor in the absurdly chaotic. For instance, something like a pandemic … But, still, do the deal with Disney! Maybe you don’t get the last crumb off the table, or even paid, in 2020, but you are locked in for a decade against unforeseen, quantifiable, risks.
Third? How about DEFCON 1? CBS walks away from its SEC Game of the Week broadcast deal, a deal that pays the SEC $55M annually through 2022. Guess who stepped up with an agreement in principle to replace CBS? Our Disney/Bristol buddies. And they are coming large at approximately $360M a year for the same rights. And unlike CBS, ESPN will not use the game as a lead in to 60 Minutes.
The SEC Gets Richer
Expect a boatload of games on ESPN and all of its spinoffs, as well as the ABC prime time game, focusing on the SEC. If this deal is consummated, all 14 SEC schools come 2023 will be receiving a payout of approximately $65M a year. To match this, the Pac-12 would have to more than triple its current media rights deals and quadruple the number of PN subscribers. Good luck.
By the way, Disney/ESPN own the ACC, Longhorn and SEC networks. And ESPN also owns the Big 12’s tier 1 media rights. But Larry has Australia and Asia going for him, which is nice.
Fourth, can it get any worse for the Legion of Larry? You know it. As noted above, and apparently unaware to Larry, the B1G’s deals with Fox and ESPN are also up for negotiation in 2023. A year before the Conference of Champions is left to sell its wares. Fox owns the B1G Network. It will not walk from the B1G. It is not going to trade the Fox B1G Noon Kickoff game for a 9 a.m. PST Pac-12 breakfast kickoff game.
So, what are the odds that Larry’s gamble pays off?
I see Larry, his clueless overseers, Ducks and Pac-12 fans being left Lonesome, On’ry, and Larry’d.
In other words, dear friends, SOL.
Top Photo From Twitter
Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in digital marketing in Chicago, Illinois.
Jon Joseph grew up in Boston, Massachusetts but has been blessed to have lived long enough in the west to have exorcised all east coast bias. He played football in college and has passionately followed the game for seven decades. A retired corporate attorney Jon has lectured across the country and published numerous articles on banking and gaming law. Now a resident of Aiken South Carolina, Jon follows college football across the nation with a focus on the Conference of Champions and the Ducks.
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