October 1, 2011

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Article

On the Offense

Athletic Conference Changes Pay Off for Utah & BYU

John Coon

October 1, 2011

Utah will benefit from being included in the richest TV contract negotiated by any collegiate athletic conference to date. In June, the Pac-12 signed a deal with ESPN and Fox to televise the majority of its football and basketball games for a reported $3 billion over a 12-year period. As part of the deal, the conference will also create a Pac-12 network and six regional networks that will be used to showcase other sports outside of football and basketball at the respective conference schools.

The Utes will receive TV revenue on a graded scale initially. They are scheduled to receive a 50 percent share in 2012, 75 percent in 2013 and a full share of the conference TV revenue by 2014. Considering that each Pac-12 school is expected to bring in a minimum of $21 million in annual TV revenue under the new contract, it is akin to the school having winning lottery numbers.

“It’s an incredible amount of money as compared to what we had,” Hill says. “This gives us an opportunity to make sure we get on par with the support other schools in the league get in regards to recruiting and staffing and facilities and all of those things.”

BYU will see a nice boost in TV revenue as well, although on a smaller scale than Utah. The Cougars signed an eight-year deal with ESPN where they will receive $800,000 to $1.2 million per home game shown on the network. Each season, they are guaranteed a minimum of three broadcasted games on ESPN or one of its sister networks each season. Before the 2011 season kicked off in September, ESPN had scheduled 10 of BYU’s 12 games to be broadcasted on at least one of its networks.

As good as the money is, Holmoe insists increased TV exposure is what matters more to BYU in the end. Now the Cougars have the ability to showcase all of their teams on BYUtv and broadcast as many home games in as many sports as they see fit that are not already scheduled to be aired by one of the ESPN networks.

“We hoped the increased exposure will do us well,” Holmoe says. “We certainly feel like we’ll give access to more and more of our fans. We are a national university with 390,000 living alumni that live all over the country. We are unique in that respect. I’m sure every school has alums scattered, but probably not as widely and broadly as we do—and in high numbers.”

The newly independent Cougars could see another bump in money and exposure if a rumored invitation to join the Big 12 Conference materializes. BYU is reportedly on top of the list of schools the conference wants to add to replace Texas A&M once the Aggies depart for the SEC. For BYU, it would mean instant access to BCS money and BCS bowl games like the University of Utah now enjoys with the Pac-12 and the chance to be affiliated with one of the strongest athletic conferences in the country.

Raising the Bar
The landscape is completely different for Utah now that it is part of the Pac-12.

On the surface, it appears the Utes have shed their status as the plucky underdog. Now they are part of an athletic conference that has produced more NCAA championships across the board than any other conference in the nation. The university now enjoys an academic affiliation with prestigious research institutions such as Stanford and California.

Millions in revenue from television coverage and BCS bowl games will flood the athletic department within a few short years. “I’m excited we get to dream big,” Hill says. “There’s no ceiling now.”

There is unbridled enthusiasm on and off campus for being a Pac-12 school.

Hill reports a 20 percent increase in licensing revenue for official apparel and merchandise in this year alone. Donations from Crimson Club members and other prominent donors have risen 15 percent from a year ago. Before the 2011 season, renewals for football season tickets eclipsed 98 percent—the largest increase the university had experienced.

On the recruiting trail, various Utah coaches are starting to land highly rated recruits who would have slipped through their fingers in the past. Going head-to-head with BCS schools for a player is no longer a liability since the Utes have joined the club.

But there are many areas where Utah remains an underdog. In terms of athletic facilities and other resources, the Utes are still making efforts to catch up to the rest of the Pac-12.

Utah is trying to address those needs as quickly as possible. It will begin construction on a new football facility in December. To cover the cost of the new facility, the school is raising $16 million through private donors and procuring another $14 million through bonds on future TV revenue.

Upgrades to other athletic facilities—which could include a potential expansion of Rice-Eccles Stadium to add greater seating capacity—remain in the planning stages. There is no rush to get much of these things done right away. In the case of the stadium expansion, Hill points out that although Utah is one of a small number of Pac-12 universities that regularly sell out football tickets each season, there is no reason to mess with the stadium until an upgrade is needed.

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