The noise fades away after a while. It dissipates into white noise, humming along in the background of something greater than the sum of all its future parts.
Welcome to the Pac-12 Studios, where workers work in controlled chaos to finish an 18-month project in less than a third of the time. They are quick but not hurrying. After all, they have another two weeks to go before the Pac-12 team actually moves in and two months before Utah hosts Northern Colorado in the first of 35 Pac-12 football games the brand new network will broadcast.
On Feb. 15, ground was broken on the Pac-12 Studios at 370 Third Street in San Francisco. Four months later, Pac-12 Networks is still very much a work in progress. But progress is what Pac-12 Networks is all about.
“The goal is to serve fans,” says Gary Stevenson, president of Pac-12 Enterprises, the network’s umbrella company.
“I think there was a general feeling that Pac-12 athletic competitions were underserved as it related to television and digital exposure. The goal was to take all that content that comes from universities and allow people to see them.”
With 850 live events to broadcast this coming school year, it’s safe to say the network is well on its way to fulfilling that goal. It’s been a daunting task — but one Stevenson is confident will be worthwhile.
A media powerhouse
Stevenson says he is never satisfied. Perhaps the same is true for Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott.
During television negotiations last year, Scott made an agreement with ESPN and Fox that made the Pac-12 the most valuable conference in college sports, according to ESPN. The 12-year contract, which will begin this coming season, will equate to more than $225 million a year and $2.7 billion total.
But that, apparently, was not enough. The deal doesn’t cover every game or necessarily cover sports other than football and basketball. Usually after such deals are made, the remaining inventory is returned to schools for them to make local TV arrangements.
Instead, Scott created the Pac-12 Networks.
“The commissioner had foresight to consider not only did we have very attractive football and men’s basketball inventory still remaining but also content surrounding Olympic sports,” Stevenson says.
With 450 national titles between the 12 schools, by far the most of any league, the “Conference of Champions” has more to offer than just those played on the the gridiron and hardwood (Olympic sports, in this context, refer to all nonrevenue sports, meaning everything other than football and men’s basketball).
Scott was able to craft an arrangement with four major cable companies — Comcast, Time Warner, Cox and Bright House — whose guaranteed funding over the 10-plus year contract allowed for the creation of the network. The umbrella company Pac-12 Enterprises was established with three groups: Pac-12 Networks, Pac-12 Digital and Pac-12 Properties (which runs and administers championship events).
The network will consist of a national network and six regional feeds. The six local ones are for each geographic rivalry group. For instance, all seven networks will have the same 350 events, but Pac-12 Bay Area will have an additional 50 events from Cal and 50 more from Stanford.
The network will broadcast 15 football games during the first three weeks of the season and showcase at least one game form each team during the first four weeks. Pac-12 Networks will show three of the Bears’ first four games in the fall — their noon home opener against Nevada on Sept. 1, the following week against Southern Utah at 12 p.m. and their trip to Los Angeles to take on USC on Sept. 22.
Cal’s Sept. 15 venture to Columbus, Ohio to face Ohio State will be aired on ABC at 9 a.m. Pacific time.
“Having three of our first four contests on Pac-12 Networks gives our fans and alumni all over the world an opportunity to closely follow and engage with Cal football,” said Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. “Our conference plays a brand of football that is on par with the best in the country. Pac-12 Networks provides a great opportunity to showcase our program and our student-athletes.”
Stevenson admits that football and men’s basketball will receive the better ratings and that’s not likely to change. But there are three things that he believes TV consumers generally all like: great competition, rooting for somebody and interesting stories. Down the road, the network will have features about student-athletes and stories about the histories and traditions of schools.
“All those things we can bring to life — that’s what fires me up,” Stevenson says. “It gives our fans an opportunity to have a deeper relationship with the things they really care about.”
For now, they just need to get through the first year. Pac-12 Networks has a “full plate,” as Stevenson puts it, going from airing zero to 850 events. “Great brands build over time,” he says. “Brick by brick.”
Fast and the furious
Lance MacDonald shows off a cool composure. The assistant project manager at Matt Construction, MacDonald is part of the team finishing up the studios before the Pac-12 moves in on July 9. He details the finesse of the venture — the top-grade acoustics, among other things — but, like Pac-12 football, it’s all about speed.
“We’ve been running the whole project,” MacDonald says. “Usually you walk a while. Now we’re sprinting.”
One hundred fifty people have been on site, he says, with an average of about 90 a day. People work six or seven days a week — whatever it takes to get the job done.
“It changes on a daily basis,” he says. When they started working in February, the second and third floors of the building resembled parking garages — yards upon yards of emptiness. The construction team even had to demolished the second-floor ceiling of the actual TV studio room to allow for the necessary height.
It’s an undertaking that usually could take years, McDonald says, so it is with more than a touch of subtlety that he calls it a “fast-paced job.”
The accessibility, for the most part, will be essentially instantaneous. Anyone with a subscription to one of the four cable companies will be able to access the network on the Internet. No TV is necessary.
Still, the network itself will be available on basic cable for viewers, subscribed to one of the companies, in places close to any of the 12 schools. For those in the “geographic footprint” of the Pac-12 but not specifically nearby a city — say, Sacramento — getting the network requires digital cable. Pac-12 viewers on the East Coast or in the Midwest can watch their teams by paying for a sports tier package with one of the four cable providers.
Still not sure if you get the network? It’s right there on the Pac-12 website. In a month or so, that network locator becomes a channel locator.
The Pac-12 is in discussion to get more than just the four cable companies on board, Stevensons says. For now, they already cover about 40 million homes.
Fellow athletes, family, friends, coaches — they should all benefit tremendously from the creation of Pac-12 Networks. The average sports fan, however, is still unlikely to sit back and watch, say, a water polo game. But now that fan has the option — on TV, on the computer, on a phone, on an iPad. It’s there, and it never has been before. And it’s not costing the fans anything.
All they have to do is sit back and watch.
“Give us 10 years,” Stevenson says, “and see how we’re doing.”