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USC and UCLA’s switch from Pac-12 to Big Ten piques Apple interest in rights 

Pac-12 said to be blindsided by LA-based colleges’ decision to switch conferences.

1 July 2022 Ed Dixon

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  • Big Ten expected to be first college conference to pass US$1bn in annual media rights fees
  • Apple’s live sports currently include MLB and MLS

Both the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have confirmed plans to leave the Pac-12 conference and switch to the Big Ten in 2024 in a move which has major ramifications for US college sport.

The arrivals of USC and UCLA will bring the Big Ten to a total of 16 teams, with member schools spread across the US. The Pac-12 now has ten schools remaining and has been left reeling by a late decision made by two marquee colleges amid the conference’s negotiations on its next media rights package.

Some reports in the US suggest that the Pac-12, once a powerhouse conference, could be broken up with other members having also contacted the Big Ten about switching. According to CBS, the remaining members would prefer to stay together, but key players acknowledge that may be difficult.

Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff was reportedly blindsided by the decision from the two colleges, which CBS said came on the penultimate day for USC and UCLA to inform the conference of their plans to depart without incurring additional financial penalties.

UCLA chancellor Gene D Block and athletic director Martin Jarmond released a combined statement which read: ‘For us, this move offers greater certainty in rapidly changing times and ensures that we remain a leader in college athletics for generations to come.’

“Ultimately, the Big Ten is the best home for USC and Trojan athletics as we move into the new world of collegiate sports,” USC athletic director Mike Bohn added.

The addition of USC and UCLA will also do plenty to further separate the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference (SEC), the US’ two richest college athletic leagues, from the Pac-12, Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

The decision also looks to have piqued Apple’s interest in the newly-strengthened conference. According to Sports Business Journal (SBJ), the technology giant is in talks over a broadcast partnership with the Big Ten.

In February, SBJ reported that the Big Ten was set to pocket as much as US$1 billion per year when it finalised its next domestic broadcast partnerships later in 2022. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) conference currently brings in US$440 million a year from Fox and ESPN, whose contracts expire at the end of the 2023 season.

Fox already has an agreement to carry at least half of the Big Ten’s rights package, with CBS purportedly leading the charge to at least secure a package of Saturday football games. Amazon, ESPN and NBC are reportedly competing for a third package.

Apple, meanwhile, has also been linked with a deal for the National Football League’s (NFL) domestic out-of-market Sunday Ticket package, reportedly joining Amazon and Disney in submitting bids.

In March, Apple made its first major move into live sports broadcasting when it secured a package of Major League Baseball (MLB) rights in nine territories, including the US and Canada. Last month, the technology giant moved into live soccer broadcasting after striking a long-term global partnership with Major League Soccer (MLS) worth a reported US$250 million per year. 

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