Maintaining Brand Relevance: The Fall of the Pac-12


The Pac-12 logo in the middle of a shattered glass graphic, with shards of the logos of the member teams radiating outward.
Solving for B°
Maintaining Brand Relevance: The Fall of the Pac-12

The Pac-12 collegiate conference is likely soon to be in shambles after eight of its twelve member teams decided to split off to join other conferences earlier this year. Beyond a monumental shift in the world of sports, it presents a unique case study into the ways brands organize themselves and how their priorities are shifting over time. 

In this episode, Chris sat down with BrandExtract CEO and President Bo Bothe to discuss the impact this move will have on fans and brands around the country. Keep reading or listen above to learn why the Pac-12 is collapsing, what its significance for brands is, and what might happen next.

Table of Contents

This transcript has been edited for clarity and readability.

What Happened to the Pac-12?

Chris Wilks: So I want to dive right in and I think the place to start is laying out the structure of college sports, specifically as it relates to college football. So as succinctly as I can, I'll give it a shot.

The NCAA governs college athletics, including college football. The NCAA itself is comprised of nearly 1100 member institutions, which are universities. In football, there are 133 Division 1 programs, which is largely the topic we're focusing on today. Those 133 programs are mostly divided into conferences.

Those conferences were historically regional, but over time some of that regionality has kind of faded, which we'll get into. So in a nutshell, the NCAA is the regulatory body. The conferences are brands of their own that have become more and more powerful over time thanks to skyrocketing TV rights contracts. And then the individual teams are sort of the star of the show. They're their own individual self-sustaining brands. They comprise the conferences, and thus the NCAA.

So Bo, I want to start by asking you, how do you describe that brand structure? Because it feels a little jumbled to me.

Bo Bothe: Yeah, I think the closest one-to-one to a corporate brand is to a corporation. General Foods owns Kellogg's, and Kellogg's has multiple brands underneath it, but they're still a part of General. And there's a breakfast foods part of General Mills. So if you look at that, this is probably a house of brands.

The challenge is that we all think of the NCAA as the overall brand, and it really is just a governing body that just says, "Here are the rules." Because it got out of control back in the past. And so we're kind of headed that same way again. But to your point, then where does the money go? If all of a sudden Frosted Flakes is making more money than all of General Mills, how do you handle that?

If the SEC is making more money from a general standpoint, and the brands underneath that are making way more than everybody else, the power starts to shift and the voice starts to shift, and it starts to affect how people see the overall brand.

If you think about it as a business unit within a certain organization, that generates 90% of the revenue of the company, the company needs to look at that and go, "Okay, what do we do here?" And that's where you kind of broke it out.

You talked about it the other day, how we all love Big East basketball, and it just imploded and exploded, and then came back. That happened because it's not viable on its own without football. And then they all tried football and that didn't work. But they've kind of coalesced around, "Hey, look, we're a small conference and we'll do some basketball stuff."

And that works, it fits, but their relevance is less in the overall conversation, which then becomes, where does the brand live in the mind of the consumer? And if the consumer values it, then it's valuable, even though we're talking about universities and schools that should be teaching people.

But anyway, I think it's kind of topical for people who are re-imagining their organizations or thinking about where value comes from within their organizations too. So this is kind of a fun topic to talk about, to think about the brand through this lens.

Chris: Yeah. And it's something, I think, transparently, I think you and I are both kind of passionate about. We consider ourselves college sports fans, college football fans, and so I've been listening to a lot of what's happening with the Pac-12 as more and more news comes out. And it's going to change the conference dynamics pretty significantly.

You already touched on the Big East and the SEC, so what's really happening and what we're looking at as a case study is one of the five Power 5 brands, as they're called in college football, is basically kind of disintegrating right now. It has over a hundred years of history, so that's the Pac-12.

The Pac-12 is started back in the day as the Pac-8 and then it graduated up to the Pac-10 because they added more members. And then it got all the way up to 12 with conference realignment, and things shifting, and bringing in new members. And that's going to be a theme that we talk about here.

Now, with conference realignment, what's happened in the past few months is that two of the biggest brands a few months ago, USC and UCLA within that conference, announced that they were going to leave for the Big Ten, which is another conference. And then fairly recently in the past couple of weeks this stuff really all started to pick up steam. 

The conference itself was in the throes of negotiating a new TV deal. Conference rights are exploding right now, the SEC and the Big Ten are two of the biggest ones. The Big 12 just, I think, fairly recently agreed to a new deal that was pretty lucrative as well.

But what happens is these brands see these big deals and they say, "Well, I want a piece of that pie." So USC and UCLA said that they were going to go to the Big Ten to get a bigger piece of the pie. And then fairly recently in the past couple of weeks, two of the other big brands within that Pac-12 conference said that they were going to also leave to go to the Big Ten.

And that came on the heels of the reports that the Pac-12's deal that they were negotiating for rights was significantly less than the Big Ten deal and the SEC deal. So anyway, once Washington and Oregon decided that they were going to leave, those brands decided they were going to go to the Big Ten, then there was kind of a little bit of a mad scramble of like, "Okay, can we survive with eight teams?" Well, four teams almost immediately agreed to go to the Big 12. Colorado's in there too.

Bo: Colorado had already kind of made the decision, but it was still kind of like... Look, the writing was on the wall. Colorado just announced it sooner than everybody else.

Chris: And all of this is done, and what's left is that the Pac-12 has four teams, which can't really be a conference. And all of this is done in the name of, well, one, more money, but to some degree, relevance and self-preservation.

Was it the Right Call to Leave the Pac-12?

Chris: So I'm curious, the question I have I guess with that laid out: Do we think that this is a good decision for these individual brands that are now moving? Is this the right call for the Oregons, the Washingtons and the Utahs even, going to the Big 12?

Bo: I think time will tell. This is a branding podcast. I know you and I have talked about this, we love geeking out to this, but how is this relevant to our audience? I don't know, ask Nebraska. I think one of the challenges is that brands need to know their audience. And I'm a Texas Tech fan, you're an LSU fan, and we have the other schools that we may watch: Penn State because we have a familial association, in my case. USC because we like their colors or something.

People have that, but they're typically either they're from Texas, so they're going to root for UT even though they didn't go there, or they went to UT, or their dad or mom went to UT or whatever.
This is a real challenge because the NCAA isn't a corporation, it's a regulatory body. So even though from a collective bargaining agreement, the power has always been in the conferences, at the end of the day, the branding power is really in the universities because they're the ones that educate the people that build the affinity.

When there's a Texas-OU, or a Texas-A&M, or a Texas Tech-Texas rivalry, that benefits the two schools because it just keeps the chatter going. The value is in that more local regional thing. And I believe in this instance, I think they're missing the boat. I think they're chasing money, which will be eyeballs, but maybe it'll create a fan in Sioux City, whatever, for USC.

It'll be interesting. The NFL is an entity, and that entity has an affiliation of teams that have agreed to work within that entity, and so you can be an NFL fan. You and I are college sports fans, and sure, I'll geek out to TCU playing because I'm Big 12 and TCU is playing in the semifinals, and it's a great game. But I don't know that I want to watch TCU four times in a row because I don't have an affinity.

It's not that TCU's not amazing and I might like their team that year, but I'm not invested in that. Whereas I'm invested in the NFL, I'm definitely invested in the AFC South. And I want to watch Tennessee play because I know they're going to play the Texans twice. There's a lot of emotional audience stuff in this that I think that a lot of these universities are missing and they're chasing these revenue dollars just to feed a beast.

And then poor Nebraska, who had a lot of influence in the Big 12, who constantly won the East or whatever, the North, it has been irrelevant since they left.

Chris: To that point, they get a share of the revenue. For a long time, NCAA has said that this is all about, "We want to protect the student athletes. Want to do all these sorts of things." The veil of that, I think, has been removed. So this is all being done in the name of profit.

And to some degree, we go back to the Oregon and Washington example, I think when they saw the deal that came through, and the deal that came through was an Apple deal and it was significantly less. They saw that almost as an existential threat to their brand, "Hey, we're not going to be able to keep up."

We're not going to be as relevant nationally, so we're not going to be able to upgrade facilities, we're not going to be able to recruit, etc. So if we sign on to this lesser deal, then we're going to be at a disadvantage, our brand is then going to deteriorate. So we're going to go into the Big Ten, which has a bigger rights deal, which will allow the Big Ten to then negotiate a bigger rights deal in the future.

We'll get a bigger piece of that pie, we'll be able to maintain relevance and stay there and maintain that brand relevance. I think my thought, my initial thought anyway, is I think it's a little bit shortsighted because you touched on it, there's an emotional component to this.

As an NCAA fan, I don't want college football to be a minor league for the NFL. I like the rivalries of the Backyard Brawl, I like Bedlam, and these are all regional rivalries. And you know what? Some of them are one-sided rivalries, but you watch them for that nostalgia, you watch them for that, crazy things happen and that sort of thing.

With this realignment stuff, you're losing some of that, in my opinion, that brand equity. Not only from the individual member institution brands, but you're losing that within these conferences. The Apple Cup, that's Washington vs. Washington State. That's not going to happen anymore. And on the surface, I don't care about that game at all, but it's the Apple Cup. I'm going to watch it as a college football fan. That doesn't happen anymore, so now I have one less game that I need to watch in the Big Ten or the Pac-12. 

So I think there's a little bit of killing the golden goose here, where more is always better, but is it, if you're not thinking about how this impacts your brand? And to your point, Bo, you're not thinking about how it impacts your audience. How are they going to receive this? I think it could be shortsighted and who knows what will happen, we'll give some predictions later. But I don't know. Yeah, go ahead, Bo.

Commoditization and Pac-12 Brands

Bo: When all this stuff becomes a commodity: I go to see a movie, I have access to that movie in 52 different ways. I'll watch pieces of the movie on TNT. I will watch the whole movie on Netflix without commercials. And I'll pay for the movie one time by going to it. But I'm not going to pay for the movie five times. There are going to be fanatics, people that really care about Star Wars that are going to go pay and see it in the theater five times.

And so there's an economics piece, the value of the second viewing, the third viewing, the fourth viewing for most people becomes, let's put it on the TV that I don't think I'm paying for, although I'm paying for it. But I'm going to put it there and I'll watch bits, Heather constantly gets on me about watching Avengers movies and says, "You've seen that 500 times." Like, "Yeah, but I like this scene." I'm not going to go out of my way to find it on streaming.

Think about football, think about college sports in that way.  I used to be able to catch a game on ABC in the afternoons on a Saturday. And that game was fed to me. It was Penn State, Notre Dame, or it was USC, UCLA, or it was Texas and U of H, or it was... And then some of the regional TV things came up and I had access to more. Raycom Sports pops up and I get to see all the Southwest Conference games, but there's really one game of the week, so I didn't get to see all of them.

But man, that really, to your point, whet my appetite. And so when we grew up, there was a scarcity. And so, watching college football or even watching the Indie 500 was a thing because that was all that was on and it was great. Now, it's so ubiquitous. I can watch any sport anytime, I can watch replays of my favorite games, I can watch off-brand football, XFL, USFL.

I can watch weird, small, tiny school games somewhere else. I can even watch high school football on TV. When that happens, and you think about your brand, any brand like this, when there's so much access to so many things like your product, there's a constant fight for relevance.

And sometimes brand association affiliation matters. The NCAA brand has lost a lot of its luster, which is a shame because it really is just a regulatory body. Let's protect the athletes, that's what that was supposed to be for. Now, the conferences that have different motives are more powerful, and they have a collective power through their association.

But it used to be that the association with the SEC was like no grades, great football. The association with the Southwest Conference was kind of the same. But regional, tough, hardscrabble. The Pac-12 and the Big Ten were, "Oh, higher institutions and really smart people." And, "SEC kept Vanderbilt in there so that they could keep their whatever high." It was that kind of thing.

Chris: They have their own brands. It's their own brand of the conference. It's like, "We're the Ivy League," "We're the Pac-12 with this prestigious institution." I miss that.

Bo: So I think the challenge becomes, who's the audience? For example, I love Apple. I'm an Apple freak. Dude, their products are ubiquitous. "Oh, now I've invested in all these different Apple products, I better stay in that universe. Now I'm going to buy the speakers and the whatever." But I'm not doing it because of passion anymore, I'm doing it because I have to. And so I know Texas fans, or OU fans, are like, "Why did we do this?"

OU had to go do it, when Texas left OU had to go. And I don't know that that's a great decision to make. Business owners shouldn't make decisions about their products because of that. They should say, "What is my product? What am I trying to achieve?" Had Texas and OU stayed in the Big 12 and the Pac-12 fell apart, Big 12 may be rivaling SEC. 

But the ego of the Pac-12, or the ego of the Big 12 and their inability to see the writing on the wall, this is where I think a lot of brands and companies, especially today, are commoditizing everything. It's the same thing, some consolidation. Too many people make tires. And I'm not all about having a giant monopoly that is one company that makes tires. But, man, it's rubber. It's rubber tires. How many different brands do we need? There should be some specialties, and there should be the one guy that makes all the tires.

I'm being silly and that sounds very uncapitalistic, but there is a point where you become irrelevant. When I say that, the specific brand is not relevant. Where I don't think it matters in college sports is people pay for a degree from Texas Tech, or from LSU, or from Ohio State.
They live next to the campus, they're from that state. There's an affiliation there that does happen with brands. I am a Goodyear person, or I am a Nitto person and I love these types of tires or this type of car. But is the audience big enough and is the price point right to keep that brand relevant?

I think college sports have a different flavor to it because of the affiliation and the association, the emotional association and the regional association. But still, it seems that that same consolidation that's hitting all these industries and the commoditization of things is happening everywhere.

You see it in universities in general. The education from Texas Tech, and education from Texas A&M, and education from Auburn, and education from OSU, they're going to say, "Oh, you're a Texas Tech grad and you're stupid, so I got Texas and I'm smarter than you because I went to Texas." Fine. That's cool. But at the end of the day, it's just a giant southern school, and they're kind of the same, it's really the effort I put into it.

Because they all have the same funding, they all have the same... It's funny how almost commoditized even the educational portion of this has become.

Chris: Yeah. Well, and I think it's like they're commoditizing their own product, the NCAA, and these conferences. It's, "We no longer care about these regional rivalries. We no longer care about-"

Bo: Yeah, they're taking away some of the special parts of their product.

Chris: Yeah. So it's a race to commoditize, "Hey, we just want to put the best football product on the field." Well, hate to tell you, that already exists. It's called the NFL. And the reason why we watch, and we talked about this yesterday: You'll watch Texas Tech because you're a Texas Tech grad. I'll watch UL and LSU because man, those are schools that I grew up watching and going to the games and there's that emotional component.

But I was interested in those regional rivalries, like Pac-12 After Dark. Hey, you'd watch a full day of college football and then you flip on USC, UCLA. I didn't care about it otherwise, but I care about the sport, now they're taking some of this stuff away, and I think they're commoditizing, so now it's like, "Well, now I have the option to watch this or that." I'll go watch the NFL for quality, I'm watching this for the pageantry, I'm watching this for the rivalry, I'm watching this for the passion.

Because right or wrong, I think we associate college sports with athletes who maybe care a little bit more. They're playing for something, maybe they're playing for their next shot or the next level. Or they're playing for the university and crazy things happen. And the more we consolidate and we get this, we're going toward this minor league almost of the NFL, the more I think they're commoditizing their product.

How this Move Affects Brand Relevance

Bo: I think of the difference between this and corporate consolidation. Kellogg's, Frosted Flakes, or whatever. There's a point where grape nuts become an irrelevant product, other than some 80-year-old person that needs to keep their fiber right, nobody's going to eat it. So it never shows up at Walmart, or it never shows up in the large box stores. It shows up in some specialty stuff.

There's still a place for that brand, but it becomes more irrelevant over time, but the consumer chooses that. And part of that choice becomes, there are too many other granola cereals that come out. It's the same thing in oil and gas, it's the same thing in nearly everywhere. You get stuck in this commodity.

For some of our clients, from an investment standpoint, the dividend becomes bigger because nobody wants to invest in us because we're not high growth and we're a commodity, so we're going to pay a dividend on our stock, which is a little weird.

But think about it, it is what it is, it's always happened, but it's still kind of strange, "This is a bad investment, so we're going to give you a little bit of our profit." Okay. If you extrapolate that into what we're talking about with college sports, some of it works. Texas Tech is relevant because of its association with certain schools. Especially for people that have a vested interest in the university, whether they went there, or they grew up there, their parents went there, and they wore the shirt every year when they were little kids. We brainwash our kids.

So Harrison will go to another school and then he'll root for Texas Tech because he grew up with it. But his son's not going to do that. His kids aren't going to do that. And if they don't go to Tech, it's going to become less relevant over time. Same thing with grape nuts. My dad ate grape nuts, I kind of like grape nuts, but now I can get off-brand.

Chris: It's the loss of brand equity over time, is that what we're talking about?

Bo: Yeah, relevance and equity. And I think that relevance piece is a big part of it. Where does relevance come from? It comes from the audience. It's not just the product. Apple's relevance came from the uniqueness of its product, and then eventually the coolness and simplicity of its product, and then the reliability of its product.

Over time, everything becomes like that, and you start to lose both. You may not lose value from just a financial standpoint because you're the best. You could argue that they haven't lost value, but they have probably lost some relevance.

And what I mean by that is just because of their scale and size, they maintain it, but the product quality, where's Kodak? And everybody gets on them about, "They didn't change fast enough." Well, they made cameras, and then they went digital, but they went digital too slow and so they sped up their irrelevance. But unless they're going to start making mobile phones that had cameras on, they're going to be irrelevant.

I think that's the way of brands. The Pac-12 has run its course. And that's sad. The emotional part of me is like, "Oh my God, that's awful." 20 years from now, nobody's going to care. Where's the WAC?

Chris: And look, it's on life support, it's not technically dead yet. They've got this last year where they all play together. Then there's four teams trying to figure out what they're going to do, the remnants of the Pac-12.

What Does it Mean for the Future?

Chris: I'm curious to get your thoughts on this. We can't know for sure because we're not in the room, and we didn't have the conversation, but based on the information we have, can you point to any statement on either, hey, this is where they maybe had a misstep, or even hypothesize, hey, it looks like from the outside maybe they didn't do this or they didn't keep up with this.

Bo: Well, I think that it might actually be a microcosm of what's going to happen to college sports long-term. And I think this is where business owners can look at their businesses and look at industries and say, "This happened to this competitor, how do I make sure that doesn't happen to us?" Because here's what's happened in the four years since, even before Nebraska left and those teams left to the SEC and the Big 12 and the Pac-12, Colorado.

That's kind of a funny deal. Even before they left, there was this conversation about the Pac-12. Well, there's a flaw in their product. They play in the middle of the night on the other side of the country, from the other two. Let's break the United States into three TV markets. And the East Coast isn't going to stay up till two in the morning to watch them play. But that's okay, they can play some afternoon games or whatever.

Had they all played afternoon games and stayed relevant with a TV contract that did that, maybe they would've been more relevant nationally, and maybe they would've been able to command a greater thing. But they all play at night because it makes sense, it's regional, it's cooler. It's pretty awesome.

Have you gone to the West Coast and watched a game? But sitting there in San Diego watching the Holiday Bowl at seven o'clock at night in 60-degree weather with perfect skies. That's Pac-12, man. That's awesome. But I think what was happening was they were losing TV audiences just because the product was so late.

And then you add the irrelevance of certain brands. When they started talking to the Big 12, and there were conversations about the two forming an alliance of sorts. To be fair, and we see this all the time with brands, especially in acquisitions and mergers: Putting those two conferences together would've rivaled the SEC bar none. And it would've extended the audience into different time zones.

I think that's where I believe that they made the biggest mistake. And it was like, "Oh, well, our brand's great, and our brand's this, and our brand's that, and everybody's going to stay, and there's no way anybody's ever going to leave us. We're the Pac-12. Everybody wants to come to us." And man, they were not relevant in two-thirds of the United States.

Chris: A little bit of hubris, right? Because I remember those conversations. And to your point, it was like, "Oh, nothing's going to happen." Their leadership, to me anyway, kind of got a little bit complacent. And this is where the Big 12 deserves credit because the Big 12 saw the shift once years ago I guess now.

Missouri and A&M left, and now it was going to be Texas and Oklahoma who announced. Rather than sit there, put their head in the sand and kind of look at it as if it's not happening, they're looking. Now, we know regionality is kind of going out the door with all these conferences. So look, some people, including me, look at it and say, "Well, West Virginia, does that belong in this region? Does UCF belong?"

But you know what? To their credit, in this iteration of it, I think the Big 12 is going to come out stronger than they were. Now, yes, you lose Texas, you lose Oklahoma, but let's put that aside and say, "Okay, that was already happening." Now, with the Pac-12 falling, they're bringing in Utah, which is a good brand, and they now have what they call the Holy War between BYU and Utah, which'll be a conference game.

Bo: So you've got some good regional and some good places to go.

Chris: To me, in this latest round, let's narrow it to the past year. The Big 12 comes out looking to be like, "Hey, we were opportunistic. We did not rest on our laurels." As to where the Pac-12 to me, on the outside not knowing, it looks like a little bit of hubris, a little bit of bury your head in the sand like, "Oh, we've got a hundred plus years of history, nothing can happen to us."

But man, things are changing rapidly these days. And to your point, the product itself is later, so it's kind of irrelevant to a large media portion of the country. But on top of that, and this is where I think maybe there's some shortsightedness happening: Washington, for example, I understand that they have a national championship in their history and all that sort of thing. And as of late, they've been pretty good, but is that brand really more valuable than Stanford, for example?

And some of this is timing, some of it's unfortunate timing for some of these brands, because rewind eight, 10 years ago when Stanford was really good and competing for New Year's Six bowl games and all that sort of thing. Then maybe they're the one that gets called by the Big Ten to go up and maybe preserve themselves.

But yeah, I don't know, I don't know if it's a lack of alignment. I think there's some poor leadership, honestly, the past two commissioners from the Pac-12, have not been proactive about securing rights deals and making the brands that are under them kind of more, "Hey, this is a viable place for you."

Bo: Well, I think that's where you have to bring, from a corporate standpoint, that's where the overall brand... You look at some of our clients in the past, Oxy, their brand structure, they've got traditional energy, they've got chemicals, and they've got this carbon innovation component. And they're all in on that, and they're talking about it, and they're investing in it.

They need to be careful not to overlook the other two components. You look at total energy solutions and all that kind of stuff. That's where I think the conversation is heading in that industry. But they've got to fight a battle on multiple fronts to keep relevance. If they were just oil and gas, or if they were just chemicals, there's a place for them in the world, but they're not as relevant as a brand. You extrapolate that to the Pac-12, and hey, we're on the West Coast, we've got great weather, and it's awesome football.

Chris: Yeah. Who's not going to want to come here?

Bo: Yeah. Oh, hey, what's the next thing? Whether it's the TV deal, whether it's the constant growth of adding a region or whatever. Should they have just added BYU? If the Big 12 had been smart, they would have done something with the Pac-12, either be part of the Pac-12 brand or earlier.

Texas and OU wouldn't have left if the Pac-12 and the Big 12 had come together, like they'd talked about before, without adding West Virginia, without adding some of these other schools. Not to say I don't love TCU being in the conference or any of that kind of stuff. And the Pac-12 hadn't been so weird about private schools or whatever, gotten over some of that stuff.

Could you imagine Texas and USC playing and then they're eating two regions, two massive TV markets?

And OU and Texas now have access to the LA market. That's, I think, better than OU and Texas being irrelevant in the SEC having access to the South. Why didn't they think about that? If you think about USC and UCLA, same kind of thing. How relevant is the Michigan market from a TV standpoint? But hey, man, I get Houston, I get Austin, I get Dallas, I get San Antonio, I've maintained.

Had that happened years ago when Nebraska left, and Missouri left, and Colorado went, had the foresight to combine those two... Good god, man, that conference, think about that from a TV or revenue standpoint and an audience standpoint. You don't get New York, you don't get Florida in the East Coast, but man, you get two-thirds of the country, and all of a sudden USC and Texas are playing every couple of years, and they're not playing every year.

But to your point, that game doesn't get boring. Oh, great, A&M, LSU, that's awesome that it happens every year now. Well, now, we're going to water it down even more. They're going to have to go to pods, and however the SEC is going to end up breaking it up. Now, it's Texas A&M, OU, LSU... And then some of the games that were relevant, where Georgia would play LSU, whatever, those are going to go away every couple of years. We saw it with Big 12.

So I don't know, man, it's going to be interesting. But I think companies can look at this kind of stuff and they can go, "Okay, hmm." If we think about it as a brand, NCAA has become less relevant. Again, Oxy. Oxy's carbon capture brand is becoming bigger and bigger and bigger. Does that brand value go into the overall Oxy brand, which I think they're doing a good job of that, or is that just a spin out and it's a different company?

But what that will do for the shareholders of Oxy, overall Oxy, they'll get a piece of that, but this thing becomes a commodity-driven product. Whereas, look, we've got a total energy solution here from green and sustainable sources, making sure that people have the energy they need in whatever form. That's a really compelling story.

Same thing, Pac-12, education, athletics, location, man, who doesn't want that? No, now it's all about TV and money, and blah, blah, blah, and just football. And then all of a sudden it all just falls apart. You have to really be thoughtful about your brand. I don't know, it'll be interesting how these conferences' relevance stays together, or if the SEC becomes basically the NCAA.

We're just so focused on football and the NCAA is like, "What's going to happen to Title IX schools? What's going to happen to funding for some of these universities?" To your point, Washington won a national... Well, Rice won a national championship once too, or was competing for a national championship.

Chris: Yeah. And I think a big takeaway for me as it relates to branding and brands in this is that I think, to some degree anyway, the short-term promise of big TV dollars won out. And I get it, you need to sustain. As a business, if we're looking at this as a business, you need to sustain yourself, you need to go what makes good financial sense and that sort of thing.

But I wonder if, ultimately, it's like you're killing the golden goose. If you're looking at this for this short-term gain like, "Hey, we're going to go get this TV rights contract for the next 12 years. We're going to go get this TV rights money."

But does that bring down the overall value of the product to where those TV contracts, they're never going to dry up, but do they get lower and lower and lower? And all of a sudden when we're in this big conference and the TV contracts start contracting, and now we're in a conference with instead of 12 teams, now we're in the Big Ten looking at USC and UCLA.

Now, we're in a conference with 18 teams, and now the money's the same, but now we're spending much more money traveling and having to support non-revenue generated sports, so all of a sudden we're actually making less money. You've diluted your brand, you've gotten away from what your audience wants for that short-term gain, and you're mortgaging the future based on this thing. It's a shortsighted kind of thing for me, and we'll see how it shakes out.

Bo: I agree with you, Chris, but I think organizations, we've dealt with it, others have dealt with it. You start chasing dollars, that's not a brand. What's king here? Back to core values. The Ivy League, right, wrong, good, bad, whatever you think about them, they competed on a national scale athletically through the 50s and 60s, and then they chose their brand as academics, athletics is secondary, and it's extracurricular. 

And there are some schools that they compete in non-football sports, they can peak up because of the commoditization of things, because more and more people are playing sports, because more and more people are playing club sports.

They can put together a really good basketball team, or a really good baseball team every once in a while, or a really good whatever. But they've chosen their brand to be X, and that's fine. It's an affiliation around academics. And we can even get into that conversation about the relevance of universities, and the value of the education, and the cost.

Again, money's ruining that side of the thing too, and so I think chasing dollars, you got to be careful chasing dollars, man. And especially chasing dollars for one facet of the overall deal, and this is just about football, man.

It's about football revenue. And it has proven that a lot of these universities, even when they make these top brands, are struggling in their athletics departments because they can't support flying the lacrosse team to conference games. It just doesn't make sense.

Chris: There was an article I read, and I don't have all the details on it, but there's an article I read about Rutgers actually, because they were in a previous iteration of conference realignment, all that sort of thing. They got into the Big Ten, and yes, their piece of the TV money is better, but they don't compete.

To your point about other teams going to conferences where they don't win and that sort of thing, they don't win any games in there, so nobody cares about it. So the revenue-generating piece of it in the Big Ten for them is football, and they're not winning any games, they're not having people show up.

Final Predictions

Chris: So how do we think this shakes out? Unfortunately, I think there's going to be, of these big conferences, the Big Tens, and the SECs, and even the Big 12s to some degree, eventually, some of these teams that are the bigger brands, so in the big ones like the UCLAs, the USCs, the Ohio States, the Michigans, in the Big Ten, they're going to say, "Hey, you know what? Northwestern's not bringing any value to this. We're going to cut them."

So my prediction for this is: is it that you start peeling off these teams, so now you're going to get back to a Big Ten with 10 teams and it's going to be the elites in the sport? So Rutgers is going to go, Maryland's going to go.

But then those teams are going to need conferences, so I do think, cyclically, eventually, we'll get back to smaller conferences, but you're going to be breaking up rivalries, in the meantime, you're going to lose a lot of fans, you're going to lose a lot of audience along the way because it's not going to be the same sport. So that's my prediction, is that it will eventually correct itself in a weird way. And maybe that's a little bit of wishful thinking, but-

Bo: No, no, it always does, Chris. We've talked about this, I've got a different perspective, you've got a different... Slightly different. Your new kiddo is going to grow up with this. We talked about this, the Oilers. I am still an Oiler fan. Luv Ya Blue. It's been almost 30 years since they've been gone. I still hate the Titans. It is what it is. I hate that they stole our history. That's the way I look at it.

Other people look at it as, I'm a Titans fan because I was an Oilers fan. I like the Texans, I'll follow the Texans, I hope they win, they're my local team, but my son has a bigger affinity to the Texans because he didn't know the Oilers. And so things change, stuff happens, companies go away, ask Kodak. But I think it all kind of settles. Now, it may settle differently and there may be a third division of the NCAA and it's just the elite, but how relevant is that going to be to me?

If I'm not a member of that club and it's only members of that club, then what's... And what's that going to do to TV? 

Chris: And this isn't just a nostalgia, "Oh, it used to be better, blah, blah, blah, blah." It is a change in the product. If you go off and form the Super League where it's the top 20 teams, the top 20 brands in college football, it's taking away one of my best sports memories.

It was back when it was USL, now it's the University of Louisiana, but USL played A&M at home, and A&M was rank number 23, and USL, quarterbacked by Jake Delhomme, beat A&M. And that's one of the best sports memories I have in my life. That doesn't happen anymore if you take away some of these things and it's just, look, I'll watch LSU games, but the diehard, I'm going to fly down to Baton Rouge every single year to go to a game with my friends, I'm not going to do that anymore.

Bo: I agree with that because it's not as accessible. I think that's the challenge. And it's not forced accessibility either. When there was one game on Saturday afternoon that you had to watch and you loved college football, you watched USC, UCLA. Even though you were in Texas. We're different now. I can get it all the time, anytime, anywhere, and it's economics. It's going to make it less valuable, other than those that bleed purple and gold, or red and gold, or red and black, or whatever. There's a personal emotional piece to this that I think a lot of these people are missing, that I think is a bigger part of college sports.

Everybody knows it. They talk about it. They run commercials about it. But when they make the decisions, they make it on the dollar. Yeah. "Oh, by the way, we don't care about the fan." I went to A&M every time Tech played them. I spent money in College Station. And LSU is not going to do that every year forever. LSU fan's going to go once in a while and that's going to be it. A&M fan might go to every game forever just because that's the way they are. But it is them, it is about that brand and that brand's fans can see that. So cool, man. This was awesome.

Chris: Well, thanks, Bo. Yeah, this was great. I really appreciate it. Had a lot of fun having this discussion about this topic, so appreciate the time, but I'll catch you in the next one.

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