Pac-12 stock report: Amazon’s big audience win, the status of Pac-12 negotiations, ASU’s recovery and Colorado’s fate

Commentary on Pac-12 developments on and off the field …

Rising: Amazon’s viewership numbers

The company that owns the world plunged into live sports this year with an exclusive contract to stream the NFL’s ‘Thursday Night Football’ package. (Previously, Amazon had simulcast the Fox broadcast of TNF.)

While it took a week for Nielsen to report audience numbers from Amazon’s first stream of the regular season (Chargers at Chiefs), the numbers are impressive.

Amazon averaged 13 million viewers, which exceeds the 12.5 million it had reportedly promised advertisers and considerably higher than expectations within the sports media ecosystem.

“I was thinking this (would) be closer to 10 million (many thought less). Big win for Amazon,” Austin Karp, the managing editor/digital for the Sports Business Journal, wrote on Twitter.

Andrew Marchand, the New York Post’s sports media columnist, noted: “That is a very strong start for the NFL on streaming,”

The viewership numbers undoubtedly will resonate favorably across the Pac-12, which is in the middle of negotiating a media rights contract and, according to sources, is seriously considering a deal with Amazon for some portion of its inventory.

ESPN appears interested in continuing its relationship with the conference but won’t pay a dime more than is necessary.

So the Pac-12 desperately needs competition for its rights.

Amazon bid on the Big Ten’s inventory this summer but was rejected.

The Big Ten was worried about placing football on a digital-only platform and instead opted for traditional linear broadcasters (Fox, NBC and CBS).

Unlike the NFL, the Pac-12 doesn’t qualify as appointment viewing. (Nor does the vast majority of college football on TV.)

But the case for pursuing a media rights deal with Amazon is based, in part, on the timing:

‘Thursday Night Football’ would allow Amazon to gain acceptance among mainstream sports fans for two years before the Pac-12’s contract kicks in.

As a starting point, the Nielsen number (13 million) is significant.

And as the New York Post’s Marchand observed, the real audience was probably larger:

“While Nielsen’s official number is 13M for the first game, Amazon says it believes the number should be more than 15M.

“Either way, it beat what (the company) promised advertisers and most predictions.”

Falling: Timing of a Pac-12 contract

Combine our reading of the tea leaves with what commissioner George Kliavkoff said earlier this week on ‘Canzano and Wilner: The Podcast‘ — “I don’t feel, candidly, any sense of urgency at this point” — and it appears the Pac-12’s media negotiations could last well into October, if not November.

After all, It took the Big Ten approximately six months to complete its media deal — and that was with a slew of motivated bidders.

The Pac-12 doesn’t have nearly the array of networks clamoring for its content.

NBC and CBS aren’t interested.

Fox has what it really wanted (Los Angeles, via USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten).

Turner? Not that we can tell.

All of which means Kliavkoff and his team of advisors must be creative in generating interest and driving up the value of the inventory.

The conference won’t disclose the specifics of the negotiations and, thus far, has masterfully avoided any leaks.

But our strong belief is the 30-day exclusive negotiating window with ESPN and Fox — as the current partners, they had first choice — began after the Big Ten finalized its contract in mid-August and, therefore, has just drawn to a close.

There’s no sign of a deal, which means the conference will take its full inventory to the market.

So settle in, folks.

The guess here is that we’re at least weeks and likely months away from a conclusion.

Rising: Arizona State’s outlook

There is no way to predict how the current season will unfold for the Sun Devils after terminating — err, parting ways with Herm Edwards.

As we noted earlier in the week, the 2021 season provided two contrasting examples of how teams react to in-season coaching changes: USC flailed after dismissing Clay Helton while Washington State thrived under Jake Dickert.

But this much is certain: An astounding 15 months after the first report of NCAA rules violations under Edwards’ watch, the Sun Devils have taken the first step on the road to recovery.

We’re quite confident no other school would have handled the situation the same way. (Then again, no other school would have hired Edwards in the first place.)

After all, the impetus for Edwards “relinquishing” his duties wasn’t the widespread cheating that cost five staffers their jobs but a lackluster on-field performance against Eastern Michigan.

As long as the man at the top of the football org chart was in place, stagnation was inevitable.

We don’t expect the administration to name a permanent coach until late November or early December — and maybe not even then.

Until the NCAA’s enforcement arm lays out its findings, the Sun Devils won’t know the severity of the sanctions (scholarship losses, postseason bans, etc.).

And without knowing the sanctions, quality candidates will be wary of accepting any offer.

But at least the process can start, finally.

Falling: Colorado’s outlook

Last year, three Pac-12 football coaches were fired during the season, each for different reasons:

Sept. 13: USC axed Helton for performance;

Oct. 18: WSU canned Nick Rolovich for violating the state’s vaccine mandate;

Nov. 14: Washington dismissed Jimmy Lake after he struck a player.

It was something you’d expect in the SEC.

We don’t expect an equivalent level of turbulence in 2022, but there has already been one coaching change (ASU) and a second seems possible.

The Buffaloes have deteriorated at an astounding rate under Karl Dorrell, who made an impressive debut during the COVID season (2020) — he was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year, in fact — but has offered nothing positive since.

Colorado was 4-8 last season, lost several key playmakers to the transfer portal and is currently the worst 0-3 imaginable, with zero offense and blowout losses to TCU, Air Force and Minnesota.

It’s hard for the Hotline to believe CU’s administration would make an in-season change given the need for stability.

But we’re less convinced Dorrell will make it to the season finale than we were a few weeks ago.

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Author: Jon Wilner