Pac-12 … and the Pacific Rim

On January 2, 2012, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was in Glendale, Arizona, for the 2012 Fiesta Bowl matchup between No. 3 Oklahoma State and No. 4 Stanford.

While Scott was in Pac-12 country, he was looking well beyond the Pac-12’s borders.

Speaking of Stanford and its annual rivalry game against Notre Dame, Scott said he believed that there would be a game between the Irish and the Cardinal in China “in the not too distant future”. He said he planned to have further discussions on the subject with officials from Stanford and Notre Dame. Scott said that if it’s not 2013, it is just a matter of time before the Pac-12 introduces college football to the world’s largest country.

Three years have passed since Scott’s pronouncement at the Fiesta Bowl, and still no football games involving Pac-12 schools have been played in China.

But that doesn’t mean that Scott has given up on the idea of expanding the Pac-12’s brand into the Pacific Rim.

In the past few weeks, there have been a pair of announcements which indicate that there will soon be regular or post-season basketball and football games played on the other side of the international date line.

First came the announcement of the very real possibility of an “Australia Bowl” between a Pac-12 team and a Mountain West team, to be played in Melbourne as early as the 2016 season. The Pac-12 and Mountain West Conference have had “considerable conversations” over the past five months about staging a bowl game in Australia, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said on May 6th.

Paul Sergeant, CEO of Melbourne Stadiums Limited, is part of a group proposing to host a bowl game at Etihad Stadium in Australia.

“We had a lot of conversations (with the Pac-12) but we ran out of time (at the Pac-12’s spring meetings),” Sergeant said. “We’re deadly serious about making it happen (in 2016). I think the response we got (from the Pac-12 and Mountain West) is they got the message.

“This would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the student-athletes. The Pac-12 and Mountain West have been incredibly receptive. We’ve had some great dialogue.”

The second announcement was not the possibility of a Pac-12 team playing a regular season abroad, but the reality of just such an occurrence.

This past week, it was announced that Washington would play Texas in Shanghai, China, to open the 2015-16 men’s basketball regular season.

“Basically my vision is that this will be an annual tip-off game, the way the Pac-12 starts off every year,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said when the game details were released. “It’ll be a premiere team against a premiere non-conference opponent, a new tradition for how we start the season.”

The costs for the game the next two years will be covered by the Pac-12’s newest—and perhaps most significant—sponsor. The league has agreed to a two-year deal with the Alibaba Group, the Chinese e-commerce giant, to sponsor the Pac-12 China Game in Shanghai in 2015 and 2016. The sponsorship hints at the potential for overseas companies to become involved with college sports.

“It’s hard to know from a historical context to tell which are the tipping points,” Scott said. “But this feels significant to me. The fact that we are partnering with a company like Alibaba, the biggest E-Commerce company in the world, validates the vision and the significance of what we’re doing.”

The game represents the first time any American sports league has held a regular-season contest on Chinese soil … a pretty big deal.

Basketball teams from the United States have long toured Europe during the summer months (as Colorado did a few years back) and basketball teams have made forays into China (Xavier Johnson participated in just such a trip just last summer), so going overseas is not that uncommon (CU’s women’s soccer team, for example, is on a ten-day tour of Spain as we speak).

But this is different. This is the regular season opener … and it’s in China.

How will the Pac-12’s venture into the Pacific Rim work out?

It’s way too early to make any predictions on the successes of the Pac-12 perhaps playing a bowl game in Australia, and setting up regular season basketball games in China, but it’s hard to fault Larry Scott and the Pac-12 for having the vision to at least look into the possibilities.

According to CBS Sports writer Matt Norlander, the Pac-12’s move into China could pay huge dividends … It’s a pretty big deal with a potentially massive positive upshot down the road if this idea goes smoothly. And if sponsorship money is an easy get, this is a no-brainer. It expands the ever-coveted “brand” identity of a conference and turns the league’s “footprint” into something bigger, something closer to the size of a T-Rex hoof.

Basketball in China, though, makes more sense than football in Australia … at least for now.

While the other bowls pay the participating school or conference between a few hundred thousand to several million dollars for their appearance, the Australia bowl would not pay the schools or conferences any money. However, it would cover all expenses instead. Promoter Paul Sergeant also said his bowl would not require ticket commitments from each school.

“The key element is there’s no risk for the conference or the teams,” Sergeant said.

Etihad Stadium has a capacity of about 53,000, but Sergeant said he’s not expecting a large amount of fans from either school. The game most likely would be played between Dec. 20 and Dec. 30.

“We would expect visiting fans (from the United States) in the hundreds, not the thousands,” Sergeant said. “We’re basing having a capacity crowd on the domestic market.”

Then there are the teams which would participate. Both the Mountain West and the Pac-12 have contractual tie-ins for bowl games, which would mean that the participants in the Australia Bowl would not be highly ranked teams.

Sergeant also said he’s realistic his bowl could get one of the last selections from each conference.

“That’s part of the discussions,” Sergeant said. “We know where we fit in the food chain. We’re not expecting the No. 1 choice. We’re going into this with our eyes wide open.”

And then there are the logistics.

“We have to get down to who’s going to give up what,” Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said. “You can’t on this one say, ‘What if we don’t have enough (bowl-eligible teams),’ and then on Dec. 5 you can’t send someone to Australia. You’re talking about 1,000 passports, 1,200 passports.”

On the other hand, if there was room for one more Pac-12 bowl team … say a Colorado team which finished the 2016 season with a 6-6 record but was ninth in the Pac-12 bowl pecking order (and otherwise out of luck in landing a bowl bid), would the Buff Nation be interested in seeing CU be the first team to play a bowl game in Australia?

Similarly, would Buff fans have objected to having their regular season opener this fall against Iowa State played in Shanghai, rather than at a “neutral site” game in a 3,200-seat arena in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (which will be predominantly Cyclone fans)?

I think I know the answers to both of those questions …


One Reply to “Pac-12 … and the Pacific Rim”

  1. I am completely against any overseas games, especially Asia. Let the NFL/NBA handle the international aspect of marketing America. These are college students that are playing under a scholarship while getting a degree. The logistics of travel are already difficult enough for these students, and the distances involved with this proposal are too much for them.

    Stupid idea

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