Playfly Sports has struck a multi-year deal with Pac-12 Networks, extending and expanding its relationship with the conference to become the exclusive third-party seller of the network’s advertising inventory through the 2023-24 school year. The end of the agreement, which includes rights to sell for the flagship channel along with its six affiliate west coast RSNs, coincides with the expiration of the Pac-12 Networks’ existing carriage deals with Comcast and DISH Network, as well as the end of the conference’s 12-year, $3 billion TV pact with Fox and ESPN.
Playfly, a sports marketing company, will sell the Pac-12 Networks’ advertising inventory through its Home Team Sports subsidiary. Home Team, which Playfly acquired in March 2021 alongside sponsorship agency Impression Sports and FOX Sports College Properties, has worked alongside the Pac-12 Networks since its launch in 2012. This year, Home Team has sold Pac-12 media and MMR assets to brands including Carvana, Land Rover, Under Armour and Fidelity.
The multimedia rights for certain Pac-12 championships and events, including the conference’s title football game and the new Pac-12 baseball championship, will also come under Playfly’s management through the expanded partnership. Playfly Sports Properties, the company’s MMR arm, currently manages rights at schools, including USC, LSU, Michigan State and Virginia, as well as conferences, including the Big East and Big Ten, and a west coast-heavy slate of high school sports associations.
“The [strategy] is about utilizing those big events and IP, leading with the narrative around the Pac-12 activation points at a multimedia level and then using the Networks’ to help amplify some of those activations,” said Craig Sloan, Playfly Sports’ COO.
The goal is to strengthen the Networks’ position at a crucial time, and under the direction of a new commissioner, by connecting the dots between the conference’s assets.
While Playfly doesn’t get involved in the Pac-12’s carriage negotiations—affiliate arrangements are handled in-house—distribution is obviously a determinant in how business is done on the ad sales side. In-game unit costs are a function of reach, and as consumers continue to shift away from the legacy pay-TV model, that reach has been throttled. According to S&P Global Market Intelligence estimates, the Pac-12 Network began the year with some 14.8 million subscribers, down from the nearly 18 million subs it reached at the start of 2019. (Together, the six Pac-12 RSNs are available in some 8.5 million households.)
This erosion of the linear TV base is hardly unique to the Pac-12. Over the course of the last two years, more than 12.8 million consumers have cut the cord. Pull back the aperture another two years, and since the second quarter of 2018, 22.3 million pay-TV subscribers have called it quits.
As the sports-media world continues to evolve beyond the scope of the legacy distribution model, social, digital and emerging over-the-top services may be able to offset a significant chunk of those losses. Playfly articulated a desire to integrate more of those additional opportunities into the Networks’ deals. And because college sports is arguably more sticky than just about any other premium content category, the collective desire of Pac-12 alumni and fans to keep up with their favorite teams is likely to help the legacy TV channels navigate the relatively uncharted territory of streaming.
“A big part of what Steve Tseng and I are selling is the future,” Sloan said, in a nod to the Pac-12 executive VP of sales. “So many parts of the sports marketplace are bifurcated, and so while much of what we do is centered around activating around big events and amplifying our sponsors’ association with the conference, we’re also very much focused on what lies ahead.”
Sloan said that while he would have been happy to secure a longer extension, it simply made more sense to sync up the duration of the Playfly agreement with the terms of the Pac-12’s overarching distribution deals. He added that both sides intend to continue the relationship after its current expiration date.
“For more than a decade, Home Team Sports has been an important partner in the growth of Pac-12’s national business, and we are excited to continue what has been a fruitful relationship,” said Pac-12 Networks senior VP of sales and integrated marketing David Perry. “We have enjoyed the support and reach of the Home Team Sports national sales team in particular, which has expanded the Pac-12’s impact far beyond our footprint.”
Playfly said it expects to “double down” on its investment in the college space and its multimedia rights business in the coming years, looking for areas of alignment, whether through pre-college high school or prep sports coverage in markets that complement its existing portfolio. Expanding its business in California, where high school sports participation rates rank highest in the country, for example, could help the work Playfly will be doing in the Pac-12 and currently does at USC as its MMR holder.