Sources: Apple emerges as likely play for Pac-12

After months of negotiations and uncertainty, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff on Tuesday presented the conference’s presidents and chancellors with a potential, primarily subscription-based Apple streaming deal for its television contract that expires after this school year, according to multiple sources.

While several options were presented, the Apple streaming deal emerged as the likely leader at this point, bringing some clarity to a lengthy process that frustrated many within the league and ultimately played a role in Colorado’s decision last week to join the Big 12. Monetary and exposure questions still loom, though, and outside pressure from the Big 12 remains.

There are not expected to be any imminent decisions on whether this TV deal is enough to appease Arizona, Arizona State and Utah, which are being heavily courted by the Big 12. The Arizona board of regents, which oversees Arizona and ASU, met later Tuesday, but no decision was expected after the meeting.

According to sources, the first year of what’s expected to be a relatively short-term contract with Apple would start in 2024-25 and begin relatively low relative to the league’s hopes. But the deal, sources said, would incrementally improve and potentially be competitive with its peers in the Big 12 and ACC down the road, provided certain subscription numbers are met.

When the Big 12’s new TV deal begins in 2025, those schools will see an increase to an average of $31.7 million. That has long been the barometer at which the Pac-12 deal was expected to be measured.

After the meeting Tuesday morning, there remained ambiguity about the potential value of the Pac-12 deal because of the unknown variance of subscriptions. Sources familiar with the negotiations told ESPN the Pac-12 is in a better position now than it was a month and a half ago to sell digital subscriptions thanks to changes in the media landscape.

Kliavkoff said recently at Pac-12 media days in Las Vegas that the longer the league waited, the better the options became.

“There’s an underlying shift in the media market that’s happening, and we’re long term taking advantage of that,” he said July 21.

An Apple spokesperson did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Apple has dived into sports rights in recent years, inking deals with Major League Baseball in addition to an exclusive rights deal with Major League Soccer that began this season and has been aided by the arrival of Lionel Messi with Inter Miami. Based on those prior deals with MLB and MLS, Apple does not produce the games, which leaves the Pac-12 and its schools with the production cost and could impact bottom-line numbers for the schools.

The uncertainty in the Pac-12, meanwhile, has been magnified by the Big 12’s unabashed interest in the possibility of further conference expansion and its six-year, $2.2 billion television deal with ESPN and Fox that runs through 2031. The Big 12 opened its negotiations early and completed its agreement before the Pac-12, even though the Pac-12’s current television deal ends a year earlier.

The realities of the decision also emerged on campus Tuesday, as Arizona coach Jedd Fisch addressed local media about the start of training camp and took multiple questions on realignment. Fisch told local reporters that he videoconferenced with the families of his players to assure them that clarity on the future would emerge soon. He said a guiding force in the process would be “stability wherever we land.”

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