The Pac-12 Conference has had a rough go of it over the past few years. From missing out on the College Football Playoff each of the past five seasons to losing USC and UCLA to the Big Ten this past summer, it's clear that the premier conference on the West coast is going through tough times at the moment. Amid the adversity, the last thing the Pac-12 wants to see is a problem with its own network. Nonetheless, the Pac-12 Network filed a lawsuit this week against a major television provider for a breach of contract.
According to Jon Wilner of the Mercury News, the network has filed a lawsuit against Dish for “withholding payments and violating the terms of their distribution agreement.” The dispute stems from the 2020 football season heavily impacted by COVID-19, especially in the Pac-12 where many schools didn’t even play half of the normal 12 regular season games. Wilner notes that the Pac-12 is seeking damages and injunctive relief in order “to both recoup the license fees Dish has already improperly withheld and to prevent any continued withholding of fees due under the parties’ agreement,” per the suit.
Both Dish and the Pac-12 declined to comment on the matter, and two sources with backgrounds in sports media contracts tell Wilner that the redactions in the suit make it difficult to draw any definitive conclusions. For example, the two sides agreed on a rebate for the 2020 season “calculated pursuant to the parties’ agreed-upon rebate provision.” However, Dish, per the suit, “also inexplicably demanded from the Pac-12 additional rebates for the two contract years before 2020-21.” The explanation for Dish demanding additional rebates is redacted.
Because of the redactions, Wilner’s sources were left wondering how Dish concluded that the shortfall in 2020 impacted the prior years and, therefore, prompted the decision to withhold present-day payments.
The Pac-12 obviously contends that Dish’s position is improper and unreasonable because Dish could not possibly have suffered losses during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 contract years from COVID-19-related football shortfalls occurring one to two years thereafter.
The Pac-12’s complaint includes a demand for a jury trial, so it will be interesting to see how this case plays out moving forward. The future of the Pac-12 Network is certainly up in the air at the moment along with the future of the conference as a whole. The Pac-12’s media rights deal just went to the open market after its exclusive negotiating window with Fox and ESPN concluded.
Anyone interested in college sports law should pay attention to not only the resolution of the lawsuit but the Pac-12’s new media rights deal as well. Even though commissioner George Kliavkoff has expressed confidence that the remaining 10 members are committed to the conference, nothing can be set and stone until a new media rights deal with a strong grant of rights is signed. There is a lot of speculation that the Pac-12 could go heavy into streaming with Amazon or Apple with hopes to maximize revenue to keep its members from looking toward the Big Ten or Big 12.
The college athletics landscape is shifting every day with lawsuits, conference realignment, transfers, and changing leadership. Add this lawsuit to the long list of business and legal issues facing the industry in this crazy time.
Brendan can be found on Twitter @_bbell5