Pac-10 Expansion and Media Markets

April 12, 2010

The discussion regarding Pac-10 expansion, and all conference expansion for that matter, revolves around the ability to generate more revenue per school than the status quo.  Pac-10 talk has focused on a possible conference television network and a championship football game.  Primary expansion targets are widely thought to be Colorado (media market #18) and Utah (#33), for their combination of market size, academic profile and geographic fit.  How these criteria rank, or are weighted in the decision process, may not be known until a final decision is made, quite likely by the end of the summer.

I’m not a big proponent of Pac-10 expansion, as I enjoy the conference the way it is.  However, I realize that the conference may have to expand as a defensive move, to avoid getting left behind in the tidal wave of change sweeping through collegiate athletics.  At worse, the conference could find its revenue opportunities diminishing if nearby conferences expand and pick off Pac-10 expansion targets, or Pac-10 institutions themselves.  Depending on how the various revenue scenarios play out, the conference may even find it worthwhile to go bigger than 12 schools.  But where?  The following are the largest media markets in the conference’s footprint, or in nearby regions.

#18 Denver (Colorado)

#20 Sacramento (captured by Bay Area schools)

#28 San Diego (captured by LA schools; SDSU not likely)

#33 Salt Lake City (Utah and BYU)

#42 Las Vegas (UNLV)

#44 Albuquerque (New Mexico)

Because the conference can only look east for expansion, and likely not beyond the Mountain Time zone, the possibilities are limited compared to the Big 10, for instance.  A positive is that cities such as Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Albuquerque are growing and might one day be coveted markets.  In fact, they’re far bigger markets than what’s found in many other BCS conferences.  But with the exception of Utah, the schools in those markets may not currently fit the Pac-10 academic criteria.  Long term, a proactive move to protect the conference may be to expand into the mountain west region and divide the conference into coast (original Pac-8) and mountain (AZ schools plus new additions) divisions, maybe with conference championships decided in Phoenix.  As currently structured, the conference is pretty well off when it comes to media markets (top 50), thanks to LA and the Bay Area.

#2 Los Angeles

#6 San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose

#12 Phoenix

#14 Seattle

#22 Portland

In a few years the conference could look completely different, or it may not change at all.  Ultimately, one must remember that this is a conference of regionally aligned academic institutions, not a professional athletic league looking for the largest strategic markets.  Ideally, the conference could choose its own path following its own timeline.  Realistically, the conference may end up reacting, against their wishes, to changes made across the country.