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There’s A Little WWE In Everything Tony Rizzo Does

“I need either an A or an F. That’s what I’m after.”

Brandon Contes




For 14 years, Tony Rizzo has entertained audiences with The Really Big Show on ESPN Cleveland and for decades, he’s been a sports media star in The Land.

“A star who draws attention and brings it every day on-air, but he’s also a great team player,” newly appointed ESPN Cleveland PD Matt Fishman said of the 59-year old Rizzo. “The great thing about Tony is that he cares about everyone here. He knows everybody on the team and their families, whether they’re in sales, marketing or an intern.”

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Creativity, a willingness to adapt, build and grow a community has seen ESPN Cleveland’s midday show morph from what started as Rizz On The Radio into The Really Big Show we hear today. It has the sound of a drive time radio show, with characters, bits and intricacies, but because of Rizzo’s TV schedule, it launched and has remained in middays since 2007.

“If we had this conversation 15 years ago, I would have said we need RBS in afternoon drive,” Fishman said. “But with the app, smart speakers, our website, people find what they want to listen to no matter what time of day it is.”

The Really Big Show wasn’t the plan in 2007 when Good Karma hired Rizzo and paired him with Aaron Goldhammer, a radio producer from Wisconsin. But that’s because the plan was not to be contrived by the traditional sports talk format.

“The biggest stroke of luck in my career is that I got a chance to work with Rizz,” Goldhammer told me.

The best depiction of Rizzo as one of Cleveland’s premier sports voices came from Ohio native and ESPN NBA Insider Brian Windhorst.

“For years when Rizzo hosted the Browns postgame show, no matter where I was in the country I always turned on my ESPN App and wanted to hear what he had to say. Sometimes I turned it on too early and just waited until he came on the air,” Windhorst said. “As someone who doesn’t live in Ohio anymore, only really follows the Browns out of morbid curiosity than actual fandom and works in the sports business where I turn down 5-10 radio shows a day, that I made that a priority is the best thing I can say about Tony and his influence.”

Before I spoke with Rizzo, I kept hearing how he doesn’t do interviews and I was even met with surprise that he agreed to do this one. Usually, it’s easy to find past interviews featuring on-air personalities because let’s face it – many radio hosts enjoy talking about themselves. I told Rizzo this at the start of our conversation and he admitted with a chuckle, that he doesn’t do many interviews.

Brandon Contes: I tuned into the show the other day and within seconds, I hear you telling a story from FOX 8, when you had to do a last minute interview with who you thought was an assistant football coach for Ohio State, but a couple questions in, you found out he was actually the new basketball coach.

Tony Rizzo: It was Thad Motta [Laughs].

BC: I don’t want to make the same mistake with you, so can I have some background?

TR: I’m a native Clevelander, I went to school here at Ohio University and started my career in 1986. I was lucky, my dad was a broadcast Hall-of-Famer in Northeast Ohio – Jack Reynolds.

He did radio and TV locally and then went to work for Vince McMahon and the WWF in the ‘80s, so we were big sports fans and had a broadcasting background growing up. He worked with Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura, I was able to hang out with Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan. I had a really charmed childhood and it prepared me for this business.


BC: Did you know you wanted to be a sportscaster and follow in your dad’s footsteps from a young age?

TR: I didn’t. I actually went to Ohio State to be a dentist, but that lasted two semesters before I came home and realized my calling was broadcasting.

BC: Were you a big wrestling fan?

TR: I was a huge wrestling fan, but my biggest passion was the Browns. My dad grew up in the ‘50s when the Browns ruled the NFL. We were born and raised Browns, Cavs and Indians fans. One of my first childhood memories was going to the old Cleveland Stadium and watching the Indians at five or six years old. 

BC: Your broadcasting career started in 1986, was that TV or radio?

TR: I started with an AM station called WBBG as the overnight board op. At that time, the FM affiliate was WMJI and they hired John Lanigan, a big star in Cleveland who replaced Don Imus here in the ‘70s. They didn’t do a lot of sports, but they did news every half hour. The Browns were expected to be good in ’86, so that summer I said ‘let me go get you guys some interviews.’

Lanigan’s news director, John Webster wasn’t sure about it, but he ended up sending me to Browns training camp at Lakeland Community College. They used the sound on-air and I finagled my way on the show. I worked for free for a year, getting sound for the Browns and doing a couple of sportscasts, but that’s how I broke into this business. My dad helped me a lot, but I also owe Lanigan plenty. He taught me how to sell, how to be entertaining, informative and I can’t compliment him enough.

BC: Did you listen to a lot of radio growing up in Cleveland? Pete Franklin?

TR: I did, I listened to Pete Franklin, my dad even worked at the same station as him. My dad was a disc jockey there, he also did a movie show for channel 83.

BC: And now your son also followed the same path and is working for ESPN Cleveland?

TR: What a treat for me to have Michael here, we actually got to do an NCAA Tournament game together. We did one of the MAC Championship games down at the Q, and working with my son was one of the biggest thrills of my career.

BC: When did you get started at FOX 8?

TR: I did Lanigan’s show and then went part time to FOX 8 working a show called the Sunday Sports Page. We were fortunate to do very well and won multiple Emmy awards. I also did sports talk around ’93 – ’94 for an AM station, WHK. They called me and said, ‘we have a new sports talk radio format. Do you think you can do it?’

I was young and of course said absolutely, even though I had no idea how to do sports talk. I actually got cassette tapes of Mike and the Mad Dog, I listened and formulated my own show. From there, the format changed and I went to TV full time. I was the sports anchor for FOX 8 from ’97 until 2010, on the 10 o’clock news every day. In 2010 I left to work full time for Good Karma and the show I do now with Aaron. I still do a Sunday night show on FOX 8 called The Rizzo Show, a half hour at 11pm every week.


BC: Do you have a medium preference, TV or radio?

TR: I enjoy both, but I love radio. We do a four hour show every day on the radio and there’s not a whole lot that goes unsaid. When I was on FOX 8 as a sports anchor, you might get three or four minutes a night.

It helps to work for a great company. Good Karma Brands is fantastic. Aaron and I have worked together for 14 years now and he’s not only a great friend, but we’re a team and our show wouldn’t be what it is without Aaron.

BC: Was it always The Really Big Show? Because it’s not just turn the mic on, take calls and go home. There’s a creative and even comedic aspect to the show, did it morph into what it is now?

TR: It did morph into it. In fact we called it Rizzo on the Radio in 2007. It only took about six months until we realized we had something special. I learned this from Lanigan, we use life as content and in today’s COVID-19 world, our show was made for this. A lot of people are scrambling without games, but we’ve always been more than sports and tried to reach a bigger audience.

BC: Did growing up around wrestling impact the way you do a show? Using the audience, using drama, and that’s part of why it’s more than just sports?

TR: Without a doubt. We have drama, some of it we perpetrate, some of it the audience does. Aaron and I both have theatrical backgrounds from college and we play that up on-air all the time. We try to be as real as we can, but I’d be lying to you if I told you every once in a while there’s not a little WWE in our show.

“He makes everything going on, on-air or off-air, all part of the fun of the show,” Goldhammer said. “Even though I was just running the board and producing at the start, he encouraged me to keep the mic close. Because whatever drama was going on with an angry caller trying to get on-air, he wanted that to be part of the show. It helped make me comfortable and understand his vision, that it was an inclusive brand of sports talk.”

TR: The show’s called The Really Big Show and that was originally to poke fun at ourselves because we didn’t think we’d last six months. I was a fan of The Big Show on ESPN so I said ‘let’s call this The Really Big Show,’ and then it turned out to be a really big show! It’s RBS for short and we have characters that call in who we refer to as RBSers, much like Finebaum or Howard Stern have on their shows. And Howard is another show I’ve listened to for a long time. I’ve stolen a lot of things from him and I’m proud of it. We have a saying in radio, nothing is original, everything is stolen from someone.

BC: Like Howard, your show does a great job of building a community. You have listeners that contribute and feel part of the show, you have listeners that love the show and listeners that hate it, but still tune-in.

TR: I need either an A or an F. That’s what I’m after. The people that love Howard listen for an hour, the people that hate Howard listen for three hours.

BC: What about social media’s impact on the industry, because you’ve had interactions with Joe Thomas and Dan Le Batard that can bring attention to the show, but there are negative sides as well.

TR: It’s a love hate relationship. There’s good and bad, but when I started doing this stuff in the ‘80s, you had to watch sports on the news to find out any information. Now athletes can go ahead and tell you their plans on Twitter which makes things difficult, but also keeps everyone connected. The one thing I stress to Aaron, that my dad and Lanigan always stressed to me was you have to adapt with the times. I try to stay as current as I can. I have 134K Twitter followers. I don’t tweet a lot, but I do tweet news and during games. Social media is a big part of our show, it changed the industry forever.

BC: The pairing with Aaron is unique. You come from different generations, different areas of the country, you root for different teams – was that relationship smooth from the start?

TR: When I came to work for Craig Karmazin, I told him I want to use someone I worked with at WHK in the ‘90s for the show. He said ‘no, I got this young kid who’s been working his butt off for me in Wisconsin, could you just meet him and tell me what you think?’ I met Aaron at a Cleveland State basketball game and we hit it off. To your point, the dichotomy is great. Aaron is 20 years younger than me. He’s from a different part of the country. That good cop bad cop perspective has worked really well for us.

“We have the kind of relationship where he does not hesitate to tell me if an idea I have is bad,” Goldhammer added. “99 of my ideas might get cut, but if one idea works, then it was successful. It’s absolutely a collaborative effort and we build on each other. Rizzo’s real genius is not just in coming up with the idea, but taking a good idea and turning it ever so slightly to make it great.

We don’t hold anything back with each other, we’re due to get mad and have a screaming fight once every few months. But I think it’s healthy for our relationship because we don’t bottle anything up and having that brutal honesty is so important and even refreshing.”

BC: How was being part of the Draft Day movie, were you and Aaron on set for that?

TR: Ivan Reitman came and directed Aaron and I for five hours one night in Cleveland at our studios! But they elected to use us in a very cool way in the movie, they used us on the radio. At one point in the movie, I’m talking about the Browns GM, played by Kevin Costner, and I said ‘If you get this wrong you will be gone!’ Costner slams his radio shut and you can see 850 AM on the screen. My company went absolutely bananas.

BC: In addition to your media gigs, you also owned a pizza place?

TR: I had a bunch of businesses, I owned limousines, I was always trying to make a buck when my kids were young.

BC: Has that helped in terms of being relatable right now with small business owners during the pandemic?

TR: Absolutely, it’s a great point and it helps me connect with our listeners and advertising partners. I have advertising partners that have been on with me the whole 14 years I’ve been on-air, we pride ourselves on that and I think it helps especially in difficult times like this. You can relate to somebody who’s calling their own shots, paying their own healthcare and trying to keep their own businesses.

BC: At 59 years old, how much is left in the tank?

TR: There are days I’d like to retire and then there are days where I feel like I can go 10 more years. One thing COVID has done, is it’s given Aaron and I a lot of reps doing this show from remote locations. We’ve talked about me maybe moving down to Florida and doing the show from there, but I can’t see myself leaving The Really Big Show any time soon.

“It’s something I don’t want to think of, but always have to keep some names in mind and I have some people on the list, but I’m anxious to not have to go to that list for a long time,” PD Matt Fishman said of having to find Rizzo’s replacement someday. “He’s great on-air, he’s a great teammate and one thing we all miss working from home right now is that he brings as much energy to the office as he does to the show.”

Goldhammer was much less sympathetic when I asked, ‘can you imagine a time having to do the show without Rizzo?’


“Yea. Quote me on that, I’m itching to get rid of him,” Golhammer said with a hearty laugh. “I can imagine doing the show without him because he takes about 20 weeks of vacation a year. They call it in the NBA, ‘load management.’ And I think the key to increasing and maximizing Rizz’s career is just like LeBron and Kawhi. If we play him 48 minutes a night every game, we’re gonna get him closer to retirement. I think we have to do some load management to make sure he’s ready for the playoffs.”

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Robert Griffin III Wants to Tell Your Story the Right Way

“Even if I do know you personally, I’m not going to bring that to the broadcast because that’s not my job.”

Derek Futterman




During last season’s VRBO Fiesta Bowl, Robert Griffin III was part of ESPN’s alternate telecast at field level alongside Pat McAfee. Suddenly, the Heisman Trophy winner took a phone call. Once he hung up the phone, Griffin divulged that his wife had gone into labor and proceeded to sprint off of the field to catch a flight. An ESPN cameraperson documented his run and jubilation as he returned home to welcome his daughter, Gia, into the world. It encapsulated just what motivates Griffin to appear on television and discuss football, and why he is one of ESPN’s budding talents with the chance to make an impact on sports media and his community for years to come.

“This was an opportunity for me to go out and be different in the way that the media covers the players and truly get to the bottom of telling the players’ stories the right way,” Griffin said. “I look at this as an opportunity to do that.”

Griffin was a three-sport athlete as a student at Copperas Cove High School, and ultimately broke Texas state records in track and field. In addition to that, he played basketball and was the starting quarterback for the school’s football team as a junior and senior, drawing attention from various schools around the country. He ended up graduating high school one semester early and quickly became a star at Baylor University in both football and track and field.

Robert Griffin III’s nascent talent was hardly inconspicuous, evidenced by being named the 2008 Big 12 Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year and then, three years later, the winner of the Heisman Trophy. In the end, he graduated having set or tied 54 school records and helped the program to its first bowl game win in 19 years.

Ultimately, he transitioned to the NFL in a career with many trials and tribulations, but through it all, he never lost his sense of persistence. Nearly a decade later, he returned to college, but this time as a member of the media covering the game from afar. Unlike a majority of former players though, Griffin did not formally retire from playing football when inking a broadcasting contract with ESPN.

“I haven’t retired yet at all,” he said. “I tell everyone that asks me the question that I train every day [and] I’m prepared to play if that call does come. I’ve had some talks with teams over the past two years; just nothing has come to fruition.”

While Griffin’s focus as a broadcaster is undeniable, he never thought about seriously pursuing sports media until his broadcast agent pushed him to do so. He was urged to take an audition at FOX Sports. Griffin broke down highlights and called a mock NFL game alongside lead play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt. He was not prepared for that second part, but impressed executives and precipitously realized a career in the space may not be so outlandish after all. 

Griffin then moved to ESPN where he experienced a similar audition process, this time calling a game with play-by-play announcer Rece Davis. Once the audition concluded, it was determined that Griffin would not only begin working in the industry, but that he would be accelerated because of his ability to communicate in an informative and entertaining style.

As a player, he saw the way media members covered teams – sometimes bereft of objectivity – and therefore saw assimilating into the industry as a chance to change that. Now, he is focused on telling the stories of the players en masse while being prepared to pivot at a moment’s notice.

Courtesy ESPN Images

ESPN’s intention was to implement Griffin on its studio coverage, but once executives heard him in the broadcast booth, the company had a palpable shift in its thinking. He was told he was ready to go out into the field and start calling games immediately, something of a surprise to him. FOX Sports felt similarly. This led to a bidding war between the two entities, which ultimately concluded with Griffin inking a contract with ESPN. He appeared over its airwaves plenty of times as a player, and even participated on a variety of studio shows in 2018 where he was almost permanently placed on NFL Live. This time around though, Griffin was suddenly preparing to work with Mark Jones and Quint Kessenich on college football games. He did not have time to consider the implications of the decision, instead diving headfirst into the craft and remaining focused on what was to come with producer Kim Belton and director Anthony DeMarco at his side.

“These guys took me under their wing, and I’m beyond indebted to them for that,” Griffin said of his colleagues. “They taught me everything that I know about the industry. They taught me everything I know about how to present things to the masses to where it can be easily digestible. They’ve allowed me to allow my personality to shine through.”

Demonstrating his personality was a facet of his makeup Griffin felt was inhibited by playing professional football, but he knows it would have been considerably more difficult to attain a chance to cover the game had he not laced up his cleats. Calling college football games with Jones accentuated his comfort in the booth because of Jones’ adept skill to appeal to the viewers and penetrate beyond the sport.

“He has the way to connect different generations of listeners to hear what he’s saying and perceive it in the same way,” Griffin said. “To me, that’s what we all strive to do in this industry is to be able to find the connective tissue between the fan who is 60 or 70 years old, and the fan who’s in their late teens or early 20s.”

From the beginning, everyone told Griffin to be himself and not adopt an alternate persona in front of the camera. That advice has guided him as he approaches his third year working in the industry.

“It is so hard to maintain a character or try to be someone that you’re not, but if you are who you are every single day, then every time you show up on camera you will be that person,” Griffin said. “I’ve made sure that when I stepped foot in front of that camera, I was going to be myself.”

Griffin identifies his style as pedagogical to a degree, critiquing players as if he was coaching them on the sidelines. He will never look to penetrate beyond football with his criticism, as drawing conclusions and using unrelated parlance could be viewed as indecorous. In short, Griffin III knows what it means to represent ESPN.

“We’re not a gossip website. We’re supposed to be critically acclaimed, prestigious journalists, and at the end of the day, that’s how I try to approach the job that I do. That’s why I got into the business – because I felt like there was a little of that going on, especially during my career, so I would never do to somebody else what was done to me.”

Over the course of his NFL career, Griffin was subject to immense criticism that went significantly beyond the gridiron. For example, sports commentator Rob Parker suggested that Griffin was not fully representative of the Black community and proceeded to question if he was a “cornball brother.” The incident resulted in Parker receiving a 30-day suspension from ESPN, and after he defended his comments and blamed First Take producers in a subsequent interview, the network decided not to renew his contract.

“My goal as a member of the media is to tell players’ stories the right way, and if I don’t know you personally, I’m never going to make it personal,” Griffin said. “Even if I do know you personally, I’m not going to bring that to the broadcast because that’s not my job.”

In addition to broadcasting college football games with Jones on ESPN and ABC, he also appears on-site for Monday Night Countdown, the network’s pregame show leading up to Monday Night Football. Making the decision to add NFL coverage to his slate of responsibilities meant that Griffin would be able to tell more stories and utilize his knowledge of players during their collegiate careers to enhance the broadcast.

The energy that he felt attending tailgates and interacting with fans at the college level gave him a unique skill set to translate to the NFL side, leading him to present the production team with an unparalleled idea for Week 1. He wanted to race Taima the Hawk, the live game mascot for the Seattle Seahawks who flies around Lumen Field prior to the start of each home game. It was an outlandish idea, but one that made sense for television because of the visual appeal it can present.

“If you know anything about hawks, they can fly up to 120-140 miles per hour, so they’re like, ‘There’s no way he’s going to beat this hawk in a race, but we’ll do it,’” Griffin said. “To that crew’s credit, they never once balked at any of the creative ideas that I brought to the table because they want to try different things and be exciting and have fun on the show.”

Griffin ended up winning the race, commencing the new season of Monday Night Countdown with immediate excitement before the Seahawks’ matchup against the Denver Broncos. He thoroughly enjoyed his first year on the show and having the chance to work alongside Suzy Colber, Adam Schefter, Booger McFarland, Steve Young, Larry Fitzgerald and Alex Smith. 

“They always tell me, ‘Hey, anything you’re not comfortable with, you just let us know and we won’t do that thing,’” Griffin said of the show’s producers. “My answer always back to them is, ‘Well, I won’t know if I’m uncomfortable with it if I don’t try.’”

While Griffin had what looked like a seamless assimilation into the broadcasting world, he had a difficult moment when using a racial slur on live television in discussing Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. The clip quickly gained traction across the internet, and Griffin issued an apology on his Twitter account for using the pejorative language and claimed that he misspoke.

“I was shocked that it came out in the way that it did, and I immediately jumped on it and apologized because there’s no need to deny,” he said. “You messed up. You move forward, and I think that’s the easiest way to get over those types of things and to get back on your feet.”

The football season at both the college and professional level is undoubtedly a grind, and it requires a combination of dedication, passion and persistence few people possess. Robert Griffin III has garnered the reputation of being an “overpreparer,” often partaking in considerably more information than necessary to execute a broadcast. The information he consumes and conclusions he draws combined with his experience at both levels has cultivated him into a knowledgeable analyst who makes cogent, intelligible points on the air.

“I over-prepare for everything, and 70% of the information that I soak in going into a game or going into a broadcast for Monday Night Countdown, I don’t use because there’s just not enough air time,” Griffin III said. “There’s not enough opportunities to talk on it all.” 

At the same time, he makes a concerted effort to make the most of his time with his family and separate himself from the field, engaging in activities including playing ping pong, going to the movies and supporting his children. He also embarks in charity work through his RG3 Foundation and strives to teach his daughters the importance of giving back. The mission of the nonprofit foundation is to discover and design programs for underprivileged youth, struggling military families and victims of domestic violence, and it has made a significant impact since it was launched in 2015.

“Trying to end food insecurity; making sure that our under-resourced youth have access to the things that they need just to survive – talking about food, clothes, books, the ability to learn [and] putting on these after-school programs,” Griffin elucidated in describing the organization’s mission. “We want to have an impact on our community. We mean that with everything in us and have shown that to be the true case of why we do this.”

Griffin’s wife, Grete, serves as the executive director of the foundation and also runs her own fitness business. Staying physically and mentally in shape is something they actively try to accomplish in their everyday lives, and lessons they are passing down to their daughters.

“I’m 33 years old right now, so if I want to continue to train every single day, I can do that for the next 10 years if I need to,” Griffin said. “Not taking hits and being physically fit is also a good thing for your own health, which is something me and my wife are extremely passionate about.”

Although his experience is in playing football and working in sports media, Robert Griffin III does not believe in limiting himself and would consider exploring opportunities outside of sports and entertainment. He wants to become the best broadcaster possible no matter where he is working in the industry and continue finding new ways to be distinctive en masse.

“We’re storytellers,” he said. “We’re here to break down things [and] to tell people a story the right way; things that people are interested in, and that expands across all media levels. We’re not closing the door on anything from that standpoint.”

Courtesy ESPN Images

While he was playing in the NFL, Griffin dealt with a variety of injuries that ultimately kept him off the football field and made it difficult to display his talents. Ranging from an ACL tear, shoulder scapula fracture and hairline fracture in his right thumb, staying healthy was a challenge for him over the time he played in the NFL. 

Through surgeries and rehabilitation, he learned how to face and overcome these challenges. It has shaped him into the broadcaster and person he is today as he looks to set a positive example to aspiring football players and broadcasters everywhere.

“The eight-year career that I was able to have thus far didn’t come without roadblocks in the way [and] didn’t come without adversity. Learn from the adversity that you go through and learn from all the things and the lessons that you have that sports teaches you, and then go be able to present that to the masses.”

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Pac-12 Pushing Enhanced Access, Deion Sanders Reeks of Desperation

What good is enhanced access for TV broadcasts or the star power of Coach Prime if those game telecasts aren’t seen?

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Getting experimental has drawn some attention to USFL and XFL broadcasts during each league’s seasons. The Pac-12 is apparently hoping the same approach will draw viewers to its football telecasts beginning this fall.

Last week, the conference announced that its broadcasts on ESPN, Fox Sports, and Pac-12 Networks would feature enhanced access for viewers. Head coaches will be interviewed during games. Players and coaches will be mic’d up during pregame warm-ups. Cameras will have pregame and halftime access to team locker rooms. And handheld camera operators will be allowed to film parts of the field and game experience which were previously prohibited.

Those familiar with USFL and XFL telecasts will likely see some similarities to the greater access that those leagues allow their TV partners. Coaches are mic’d up on the sidelines, giving viewers insight into play calls and strategy. Players are interviewed during the game, providing near-instant reactions to success or failure. Cameras in the replay booth show how officials decide to either overturn or uphold calls on the field.

What the Pac-12 intends to do with its broadcasts won’t go as far as the USFL and XFL. Access to coaches and players is being expanded but will still have limits. The conference doesn’t have to demonstrate familiarity, credibility, and legitimacy to fans and media.

Spring pro football leagues are a tough sell to mainstream sports fans accustomed to college football and the NFL from September through January. Especially when the level of play is subpar and rosters are filled with unfamiliar names, the USFL and XFL have to give fans more reasons to watch.

USC, UCLA, Washington, and Oregon are established national brands and regularly compete with the top teams in college football. Utah has played in the past two Rose Bowls, seen on millions of televisions during the New Year’s Day holiday. All five of those schools finished among the final AP Top 25 rankings of the 2022-23 season. USC quarterback Caleb Williams won the 2022 Heisman Trophy.

Yet the Pac-12 is promoting the gimmick of enhanced access because it needs to attract positive fan and media attention. Right now, most of the headlines the conference is generating aren’t flattering.

Notably, the Pac-12 needs a new media rights deal. Losing two of its most prominent schools, USC and UCLA, to the Big Ten in 2024 certainly isn’t helping with that. Rumors have persisted that Washington and Oregon could soon follow. Additionally, the Big 12 is reportedly eyeing Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah as possible expansion targets.

Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff is left to tout Colorado’s new head coach, Deion Sanders, as a selling point in a new media rights deal. Never mind that Sanders hasn’t coached a game in Boulder yet. The Buffaloes are also coming off a 1-11 season and have won more than five games only once since 2007.

If Coach Prime is as successful as Colorado hopes, how likely is he to jump to a better program and stronger conference? And as mentioned in a previous paragraph, even if Sanders sticks around, Colorado could be poached by the Big 12. How much value would Coach Prime provide for the Pac-12 then?

ESPN’s deal with the conference expires in July 2024, shortly before USC and UCLA defect, and reportedly has no intention of renewing. (ESPN could still agree to a package of lower-tier games for late-night broadcast windows, but Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reports that doesn’t appear likely.) Fox’s agreement is up at the same time, though prospects of a renewal seem more optimistic. The network needs Pac-12 games to fill its college football Saturday inventory.

The options from there aren’t promising. CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd reports that current speculation has USA Network, part of the NBCUniversal conglomerate, as a possible landing spot. According to The Athletic, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff believes that the conference’s next media rights deal will have a large streaming component with Amazon and Apple TV+ mentioned as potential partners.

A streaming partner might be good from a financial standpoint, helping produce some of the revenue that ESPN has cut off. But forcing fans to find your product and asking them to pay for another TV platform isn’t a good way to draw interest. It may well be a path to irrelevance and obscurity. That’s not going to compete with the Big Ten and SEC, or even the Big 12.

And as The Athletic’s Chris Vannini points out, how can streaming be expected to save a conference like the Pac-12 when it isn’t even helping TV networks (or standalone providers) right now? Disney is losing money with Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu. NBCUniversal has lost billions on Peacock, as has CBS with Paramount+. Maybe the Pac-12 won’t care about that because it got paid. But there’s little chance for growth.

OK, Lincoln Riley, Chip Kelly, Dan Lanning, and Kyle Whittingham could be interviewed during games. But they probably won’t say much interesting during a game. Caleb Williams, Bo Nix, and Michael Penix Jr. will be mic’d up during warm-ups. Maybe we’ll see coaches and players going crazy in the locker room at halftime. Just remember that Peyton Manning said most players only have time to use the bathroom and have a snack. There’s your compelling television.

What good is enhanced access for TV broadcasts or the star power of Deion Sanders if those game telecasts aren’t seen by large audiences? To say otherwise is desperate. That’s exactly where the Pac-12 is.

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ESPN Deal Used to Mean Stability for ACC, Now It Means Anything But

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It was April 19, 1775 when the first shots of war were fired on battlefields in Lexington and Concord that would send shockwaves across the world. Some brave soul among a group of rebel farmers and blacksmiths, doctors and lawyers literally pulled the trigger on what would become known as “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”. Indeed, the world would never be the same.

The college athletics version of that event was June 11, 2010. On that day, regents at the University of Nebraska officially applied for Big Ten membership and were unanimously approved by the other eleven schools (if the number in the conference name not matching the number of schools in that conference is something that bothers you, this column may not be for you). From that day forward, we have never really exited the “expansion era”.

One conference that has gone largely untouched in that time is the ACC. Only Maryland has left the ACC since 2010, heading to the Big Ten, and the conference has added Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville in that same window. That is significant when you consider only the SEC and Big Ten have avoided any departures in this era. Every other major conference has seen great turbulence while those three conferences have primarily seen only growth.

That trend may actually continue for the ACC and that may not be a net positive for the conference or the ACC members. This is thanks to the long term grant of rights deal the conference schools negotiated with ESPN. The grant of rights means ESPN holds the broadcast rights to all home games of the current ACC schools, and do so for the next 13 years. 

When the deal was signed in 2016, the 20 year media rights deal seemed like a win for the ACC, creating stability in a time of great instability. Now, what seemed like a “must have purchase” may be the impulse buy that the league schools regret for decades.

Put simply, the ACC has been lapped in the media rights race by the Big Ten, SEC and even the Big 12. At best, the ACC schools are working at a $10-15 Million per year deficit when compared to Big 12 schools. At worst, they are operating at a much larger $30-$40 Million annual deficit when compared to Big Ten and SEC programs. It would be a battle of monumental proportions for the ACC to compete on the same level as those other conferences at that large of a disadvantage.

The conference’s options are slim. ESPN has a deal that is locked for 13 more years, what benefit would it be to them to renegotiate just so the ACC can compete? For instance, it would require $140 Million annually from ESPN just to place the ACC in the same financial neighborhood as the Big 12 Conference. What would be the benefit to ESPN in doing that? 

The other option for ACC schools would be to bang the departure drum. Almost all legal analysts have painted a very grim picture for the schools that would be itching to leave. The exit fee is $120 million and may get the schools some nice parting gifts but does not give them their media rights. Their home game broadcast rights will still be a part of the ESPN deal with ACC. That greatly reduces a departing school’s value to any other conference.

Maybe ESPN is willing to broker a deal for a departing school if it is going to a conference, such as the SEC, that has a large rights deal with ESPN. If one of the schools desires a departure to the Big Ten, who has large deals with networks not named ESPN, one would have to think The Worldwide Leader would be in less of a deal-making mood.

Some league athletics directors, led by Florida State’s Michael Alford, are suggesting teams be incentivized for success. Breaking the code; rather than equal distribution, the power schools want a bigger share of the money. This is where Wake Forest points out that it is all they can do to exceed football expectations on their current stipend, what will become of them if that money shrinks? It seems that conferences and leagues that steer away from an equally shared revenue model have had a difficult time making that work long term.

Maybe the ACC teams that are ready to punch out could flash back to the period of time our country was in with the events we started this column remembering. They have a team in Boston, go throw some tea in the harbor and revolt, have a modern day Boston Tea Party. As it stands now, there are several ACC members that want to leave the party they are part of. Their only problem is they are all dressed up with nowhere to go.

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