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Several weeks ago, amid questions about the bad optics of staying in a $7,500-a-night hotel suite in Las Vegas, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott sent a memo to his staff.

He attempted to justify the need for the big boss to have a marble soaking tub during the conference basketball tournament.

It was damage control.

Pac-12 Networks head Mark Shuken also issued an internal missive last month. According to staff, Shuken addressed a report that the Pac-12 paid for a downtown-San Francisco apartment for him that often sat empty. Also, he explained the necessity for his conference-financed charter plane travel to and from his home in southern California.

More damage control.

Leadership knows it has an awful morale problem in the conference headquarters to go along with its money problems. But conference leadership jumped the damage-control shark this week when it announced that critics don’t understand the mission.

The Pac-12 Networks distributes less revenue to conference members than its peers. It also has a shrinking audience and poor distribution. Athletic directors and coaches are frustrated. And fans have given up on it.

Shuken said in an interview with the Sports Business Journal that those who are taking the conference to task for the revenue aspect, “don’t understand the objective.” He told the reporter that the aim of the networks is to “amplify student athletes and their experiences.” Profitability isn’t the goal, basically. And he pointed out that the lack of distribution, particularly the absence on DirecTV, “doesn’t define the strength of the network.”

It’s a lot to digest.

And in the end, it leaves me hungry.

Certainly the SEC Network and Big Ten Network seek to amplify student-athletes, coaches and programs. But while doing so those entities also fund members at a level the Pac-12 does not. Those Power Five Conference networks are more widely distributed as well.

Shuken’s comments were an insult to Pac-12 universities.

Yet, none of us should be surprised at the strategy of the conference. It contracted with a high-profile crisis-management firm last year, and one of the objectives laid out in a 34-page communications manual playbook involved an intentional strategy to “engage third-party voices” to help “shift the conversation.”

That’s what Shuken is attempting here.

The problem is the conference has thin credibility with the public. While saying profitability isn’t the goal, it’s simultaneously seeking $750 million in private-equity investment to address the shortage of revenue created by the failing network. So what we have is the conference’s left hand reaching for a pile of money while its right hand is telling us it’s not about money.

It’s been interesting to flip through the crisis-management playbook as the Pac-12 tries to position itself publicly. It has been busy seeking out voices in national and regional media that it views as neutral/friendly to try and manipulate public perception. But what’s lost on the conference and its network is that the most visible and effective crisis-management campaign would simply be to acknowledge mistakes were made and get in the business of unwinding them.

You know, fix it.

If the mission isn’t profitability, then how about selling it so affordably that it’s carried on basic cable next to CNN?

Last year, in front of the conference championship football game, Scott announced that conference revenue and expenses were challenging to follow.

“We’re actually a media company,” Scott said.

He then claimed that his conference and network expenses were in line with Pac-12 Conference and Pac-12 Networks “peers.” But he wouldn’t tell anyone what he considers a “peer.” I reached out to Andrew Walker, the Pac-12′s vice president of communications, in the wake of that news conference to ask what Scott believed the Pac-12′s peers were.

Walker didn’t respond.

For a media-company peer, is it ESPN Desportes? Or Z Living?

For a conference peer, is it the WAC or Mountain West?

Because the Pac-12 Conference expenses and revenue are not in line with other Power Five Conference peers. The revenue gap is absurd, and growing. And the network distribution vs. expenses ratio is nowhere near the class of ESPN, FOX, the SEC Network or the Big Ten Network.

If the Pac-12 Networks is really on the job to amplify the student-athlete experience, it’s failing. Top Pac-12 baseball games in the last few weeks aren’t being “amplified." They’re absent from coverage. And some of the best women’s athletics stories of the conference aren’t being told by the Pac-12′s own media entity, either.

Shuken got out front. I don’t blame him. He’s just following the public-relations playbook the conference paid for last year. But his messaging falls flat on its face. The only reason he is claiming profitability and distribution aren’t the objective of the Pac-12′s media company is because it hasn’t come close to doing either well.

The Pac-12 Network is like a magic act.

So good, none of us can see it. And so successful none of us can understand it.

Source : https://www.oregonlive.com/sports/2019/04/canzano-pac-12-network-objective-is-to-make-you-take-your-eye-off-ball.html

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