A partnership between ESPN and USC that will result in all Trojan home games being broadcast nationally on ESPN Radio was announced on Monday. The most recognizable name in sports media offering coast-to-coast exposure of one of its teams is the latest score for Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, whose mission since assuming his role has been increasing the conference’s visibility.
The Trojans have a talented roster for 2012, and could compete for the BCS Championship. Exposure is the keyword for the Pac-12, and this contract ensures it in unprecedented quantities to a nationwide audience. Four of those games will feature other Pac-12 programs: Oregon, Colorado, Arizona State and Cal. However for them, USC is gate keeper to an outlet they would otherwise be denied. Furthermore, is CU vs. USC on Oct. 20 more worthy of national exposure than The Big Game, Stanford vs. Cal, played the same day?
ESPN must believe so. NBC Sports uses Notre Dame football as its flagship. Seemingly ESPN Radio is doing the same with USC. The difference is UND is not beholden to a conference.
So is this exclusivity to USC a positive for the league?
Pac-12 football has long been equated with USC, almost to a fault. It’s more like USC and the Other Guys. Recent seasons have served as a reminder that yes, other programs exist west of the Rio Grande. Oregon is on a three-year conference championship streak and Stanford reached consecutive BCS bowls behind the most recognized name in college football, all while USC served NCAA mandated sanctions.
But with Andrew Luck headed to the NFL, and the NCAA’s crosshairs now squarely on UO, USC’s return to dominance seems inevitable. At least, that seems to be general consensus.
The conference’s new multimedia deal brokered last May was designed to split revenue equally. Scott saw the potential for growth not in one recognizable juggnernaut, but in a competitive overall brand. What’s more, the nearly $3 billion mega-deal was brokered without full reliance on the self-proclaimed (and accurately proclaimed) Worldwide Leader in Sports.
A skeptic might suggest its latching onto USC, and only USC, is retaliation for failure to kiss the Don’s proverbial ring. I address it for devil’s advocacy.
Since its purchase by the Disney Corp., ESPN has not been a network to abide by a what’s good for the goose is good for the gander philosophy. College basketball is Duke, North Carolina, the Big East and the rest, window dressing. Major League Baseball is the Yankees and Red Sox. NBA coverage is a little bit more well rounded, but is still a largely Lakers-Heat-Knicks centric domain. The addition of USC exclusive broadcasts to ESPN Radio is furthering the network’s agenda of pushing a central figure into the stratosphere.
Such a tactic runs contradictory for the Pac-12’s new model. It also contradicts the model of the most popular, and thus most profitable of sports media ventures, the NFL. There’s an undeniable decline in MLB’s popularity, concurrent with the NFL’s meteoric rise and the increasing Haves vs. Have Nots culture of baseball. While the Yankees and Red Sox dominate both airwaves and payrolls, the NFL stresses parity.
Parity has worked for the NFL, and it’s the approach Scott has chosen for his conference. Where this ESPN Radio partnership throws a wrench into the strides taken to redefine Pac-12 football as more than USC isn’t so much in the 2012 campaign. Beyond this season, the Trojans boast a significant recruiting tool: come to USC, and the entire country will listen to your exploits.
College football programs can’t offer monetary contracts like MLB, but recruiting chips like that draw a distinct line between have and have not.