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Short #1 | Pac-12 🏈 as Apple’s Next Target: Odd man out or tailor-made for the 📱 iTunes of Sports?

Editor's Note: This short-form article has first been published on Twitter (👉🏼 Short #1), where I started to play around with Twitter Blue's extended 4,000-character-post feature. For me, it still requires cutting some corners on the grammar and style, but it is fun and can be written off the top of my head without much or any research, and allows for at least some more context than the "hot-taky" 280-character tweets. With those limitations for "OFFTHEFIELDBUSINESS - Shorts" in mind, readers are getting a two-minute read, instead of the in-depth, super-long blog articles that have become the standard on over the past years.

📰 Quote-tweeted story: Apple emerges as potential landing spot for Pac-12 football (via New York Post)

🔢 Count: 695 words ... 3 minutes.


#Pac12🏈 as Apple’s Next Sports Target: Odd man out or tailor-made for Apple's iTunes of Sports?

The conference brings a full slate of rights, plus rare production expertise for a sports rights owner, to market—offering a unique set of rights that already made #MLS⚽️ appealing to #Apple🍎:

🌎 #Global, MLS was willing to pool previously diverging timelines of local, national, and international media rights—accepting and suffering short-term opportunity costs (think: stop-gap deals in some regional/overseas markets): All rights fall back to the Pac-12 ahead of the 2025 college football season, including its one overseas deal (#Alibaba in 🇨🇳, 2017-24).

🔒 #Ownership, a 10-year media rights agreement is as close to owning (instead of renting) any sports IP as possible, without buying the entity completely: Pac-12 is just finishing a 12-year contract with #ESPN #FOX.

🎥 #Production, MLS fully produces a ready-made media product, “only” seeking distribution: Relieving Apple from traditional broadcaster obligations (eg. game production, talent management, marketing/promotion) was key to allowing the technology (which is not a media) company to focus on core competencies. To this end, Pac-12 Network infrastructure comes in nicely for the last-available Power-5 conference.

… all of this made the #MLS ✖️ #Apple agreement rather a distribution partnership than an acquisition of media rights, because that's what Apple wanted and will keep seeking in the future. The iPhone maker is effectively underwriting a league’s direct-to-consumer ambitions, eliminating much of the economic risk for MLS (or Pac-12 in this hypothetical case) that usually comes attached with moving from a traditional B2B licensing to a B2C retailing model.

Pac-12 Network’s production expertise, and even the conference's full ownership of the digital cable and satellite television network (think: no strategic co-investor, such as #BigTenNetwork ✖️ #FOX)—that haunted the Pac-12 when seeking channel distribution—could now be beneficial: Without such infrastructure in place, MLS is currently running up its bill for “costs of rights sold” by contracting a ton of third-party services to deliver the ready-made #MLSSeasonPass to Apple TV, including a roster of 90+ announcers/analysts, IMG/NEP for full-fledged game productions, and Deltatre/Sportec to data-enrich the watch experience.

For #Pac12🏈, there are caveats to following the MLS playbook, such as: College football covers the entire audience spectrum, from students to retired alumni—making a compromise on (linear TV) reach/distribution in exchange for (digital) revenue tougher than for the younger, digital-first soccer audiences as far as audience retention is concerned. To this end, Apple has wisely shown flexibility on the frontend of its long-term MLS contract with a 4-year sublicense of 🇬🇧🇪🇸-language rights to FOX, serving as a linear reach vehicle, media multiplier, and marketeer, smoothing the cable-to-streaming transition—migrating audiences gradually instead of forcing it immediately. The point is that any incremental audience churn wouldn't help an upstart soccer league that has struggled to grow lately, averaging 250-280K viewers on #ESPN #FOX #Univision ever since 2016.

For #Apple🍎, it would be a drop in the bucket financially, but a big bet conceptionally when it comes to positioning itself as a commercial and technological middleman/enabler ... popularizing the idea of an iTunes of Sports for rights owners who exclusively/globally retail their league-operated and -branded DTC streaming services on the back of the Apple ecosystem. Without such proof of concept, moving up the sports rights ladder would require significant compromises on at least a few points—which were likely the reason why other discussions haven't materialized in signed-and-sealed agreements yet: Any deal breaker isn't about a million more or less but a lack of full rights clearance (eg. 🕶 no AR/VR rights, 🌐 no global rights, or 💳 no pricing power for #NFL Sunday Ticket).

Pac-12 now presents another tailor-made opportunity, for which Apple might be willing to pay a strategic premium in times when other streamers pivot to an efficiency/profitability-first mindset. It would come at a similar price tag as MLS: min. $250M/year in guarantees, plus revenue share based on subscription sign-ups.

At the very minimum, the Pac-12 conference would get a good PR headline out of a tricky situation as it is running out of options for a diminished product post-USC/UCLA and in an increasingly uncompetitive/settled marketplace for college football inventory:

📢 "Pac-12 getting into business with Big-Tech"


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