Pac-10 steps up marketing effort

About a year ago, when Larry Scott took over as commissioner of the Pacific 10 Conference, he quickly discovered the numbers didn’t add up.

Pac-10 schools consistently led the country in national championships. UCLA held the record for most titles and Stanford regularly won the Directors’ Cup for best overall athletic program.

Yet, the Pac-10 lagged well behind other major conferences when it came to generating revenue.

“There was a significant gap,” Scott said. “That was the challenge for me.”

And that explains why Scott is parading Pac-10 football coaches through New York City and ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., before Thursday’s annual media day at the Rose Bowl.

This week’s traveling show is part of a marketing blitz, an effort to generate national buzz as the Pac-10 looks ahead to negotiating a new television contract after the 2011-12 season.

Marketing experts say the conference needed an updated strategy.

“Sometimes on the West Coast we have a West Coast attitude that things are great out here and if the rest of the country wants to learn about us, they can come have a look,” said Michael Mokwa, a marketing professor at Arizona State. “It’s a matter of being aggressive, or the alternative, being complacent.”

The Pac-10 generated $96.8 million in revenue during the 2009 fiscal year. That ranked well behind the Big Ten ($221.9 million), the Southeastern Conference ($148 million) and others, according to federal tax information compiled by USA Today.

Television revenue accounted for much of that discrepancy.

So it made sense when the Pac-10 hired Scott, a college sports outsider who had nonetheless proved his marketing skills as head of the Women’s Tennis Assn. Tour.

His first big effort fell short when he failed to create a 16-team super conference over the summer, settling for the addition of Utah and Colorado. The conference announced Tuesday that it will call itself the Pac-12 starting in the fall of 2012.

But Scott has been busy on other fronts.

Some of his moves have been small, such as creating a new logo — a shield adorned by mountains and a wave — to be displayed on all playing surfaces and uniforms.

“A rather simple gesture but a pretty important one,” said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. “You’ve got to build that awareness before you can hope to monetize anything.”

As for Wednesday’s trip to Bristol, it won’t be the first time Scott has met with ESPN executives.

Early in his tenure, he learned the Pac-10 had refused to allow the network to “reverse mirror” its games. For example, when ABC shows an Ohio State game to half the country, the Big Ten allows ESPN2 to carry that game to everyone else. Not so with the Pac-10.

“The conference had denied that opportunity on the basis that they weren’t getting paid extra,” Scott said. “It was surprising to me.”

Figuring this dearth of coverage might have exacerbated the so-called “East Coast bias,” he immediately gave the networks reverse mirror privileges, free of charge. Scott also says his office will be more flexible when it comes to scheduling so that fewer games run through the midnight hour on the opposite coast.

“We have an obligation to promote our product as broadly as we can,” he said. “I thought it was a very short-sighted strategy to say we would deprive ourselves of added exposure.”

Or, as former Arizona coach John Mackovic said, “It’s about time.”

The Pac-10 will have some help when it comes to promotion. The conference recently hired CAA to pump up the Hollywood image and assist with upcoming TV negotiations

There is talk of establishing a cable network, much like the Big Ten, and beaming Pac-10 sports to Asia and Latin America.

“The Olympic sports in the Pac-10 are second to no other conference nationally,” Mokwa said. “You have all these amazing athletes in track and swimming … these things do translate on the international market.”

Scott hopes to generate tens of millions in additional revenue to help ease the pressure on athletic departments at a time when state governments are cutting funds to higher education.

Some of his bigger plans could be several years away. It remains to be seen whether the conference can eventually secure a Big Ten- or SEC-sized TV deal.

For now, Scott is pushing ahead, appearing at NASDAQ to ring the bell and working a deal to have a Pac-10 promo running on a large electronic board in Times Square.

“People just aren’t used to seeing the Pac-10 think this way, work this way, act this way,” he said. “With a little bit of elbow grease … we’re getting the word out.”