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George Kliavkoff: What We Got/What We Can Expect

The Pac-12 has hired its new commissioner, George Kliavkoff, the president of MGM Resorts sports and entertainment.

The conference presidents conducted a secretive nearly four-month search that included speculation about some familiar names in college sports being considered, such as former NCAA executive and NFL quarterback Oliver Luck, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith and Texas AD Chris Del Conte.

What we got … 

The Pac-12 has gone outside the box in order to get back on track, hiring Kliavkoff, 54, who oversees MGM’s sports and entertainment division and has partnered with the Pac-12 on events in Las Vegas. He is also a board member at BetMGM.

While working for Major League Baseball in the early 2000s, he oversaw the development of Baseball Advanced Media (BAM), the highly successful internet arm of MLB.

Kliavkoff also served on the WNBA’s Board of Governors.

Kliavkoff, who attended Boston University and has a law degree from Virginia, replaces Larry Scott, whose 12-year tenure has come under intense criticism in recent years following off-the-field controversies and on-the-field losses.

What He Said … 

When asked about the Pac-12’s weaknesses as a conference, Kliavkoff responded: “The (Pac-12’s) greatest weakness is the number of years it has been since we’ve won a football or men’s basketball championship, and we’re going to do whatever we can at the conference level to fix that,”

That would be 17 and 24 years, respectively, and the honesty will no doubt play well with a constituency used to spin and platitudes.

“My leadership style is relationship driven,” Kliavkoff said. “My intention is to listen.”

At the close of his first media session as Pac-12 commissioner, Kliavkoff ventured down a path his predecessor rarely, if ever, traversed.

In response to a question about women’s basketball, Kliavkoff said: “We know where our bread is buttered. We’re focused on the revenue sports and winning in football and men’s basketball.”

At one point during the media session, Kliavkoff voiced his support for an expansion of the College Football Playoff. “Reports we’ve seen out of the CFP are that things are being considered, even as early as a June announcement,” he said. “I don’t start until July 1, but I was very clear with the presidents and chancellors that I want to make sure our position — that the CFP should be expanded — was clear even before my first day on the job.”

… “I believe it’s not good for college football and the vast majority of college football fans,” you said. “Think about the fact that in almost any NCAA sport, an athlete has an 18 to 25 percent chance of participating in their sport’s postseason every year. In football, that number is 3 percent because of the current structure. I take a lesson from this year’s men’s basketball tournament. The Elite Eight teams included 6-seed USC, 11-seed UCLA and 12-seed Oregon State.

“We just need chances.”

The struggling Pac-12 Networks are “part of the future” of the conference’s distribution strategy.

“We have to get the Pac-12 Network distributed on every place, on every platform.”

What Others Say About the Hire … 

“He is dynamite; he’s a great consensus builder,” said Jim Livengood, the former UNLV AD who became close to Kliavkoff in Las Vegas. “The best way to put it is, you’ve met a lot of people that have answers but don’t have questions. He would check all the boxes you could check.”

“George has the personality and genuine love of college sports to bring the league together,” said West Coast Conference commissioner Gloria Nevarez, who has worked with Kliavkoff directly.

“One of the most creative thinkers I know,” a conference source said of Kliavkoff. “He has a great media background and is partner-oriented in his approach.”

Added another source: “It’s a really intriguing decision. It’s certainly on the higher end of the risk spectrum, but how do you assess the risk of a move that would just cement the status quo?”

“At each step of his career, George has navigated complex, quickly changing environments and has been a successful consensus builder,” said Oregon president Michael Schill, who chaired the CEO Group. “George is a visionary leader with an extraordinary background as a pioneering sports, entertainment and digital media executive.

“He is the new prototype for a sports commissioner. While George has deep sports experience, his biggest asset is his ability to listen, connect with diverse groups, find common ground, collaborate and navigate an evolving landscape. We believe George’s overall skills and experience will become even more prevalent in college sports leadership.”

“I’m seeing it in every answer he’s giving you,” said Oregon president Michael Schill continued. “He’s incredibly thoughtful. He has great values. He knows what he knows. More importantly, he knows what he doesn’t know.”

And the Pundits … 

Chris Dodd from CBS Sports … Kliavkoff has never worked on campus. The Pac-12 positioned that as a plus, much like it did 11 years ago with Scott. The former head of the Women’s Tennis Association turned his conference upside down with glitzy presentations and marketing initiatives. The new guy has to be smart enough to know basketball games in China don’t build value. Beating Ohio State in a nonconference game does.

So, Where Do We Go From Here? … 

After a decade of Larry Scott, the Pac-12 – and its fans – are more than ready to move on.

Certainly, a “safer” hire would have been to go with a “football guy”. That’s what other conferences have done in their recent hires of new commissioners. It might have been an easier sell to have Oliver Luck or Gene Smith as the face of the conference.

Instead, the Pac-12 went all-in on another outsider.

Will Kliavkoff be better?

Arguably, it would be difficult to be much worse.

First, let’s leave talk of fixing the very broken Pac-12 Network for a later day. What’s important right now to the well-being of the conference is getting the Pac-12 relevant on a national scale, and that takes winning football and men’s basketball programs, and a new media deal which keeps the Pac-12 within shouting distance of its Power Five brethren.

And there were some kernels in Kliavkoff’s introductory press conference which gives Pac-12 fans – and CU fans – hope for the future.

When asked about women’s basketball, Kliavkoff didn’t stray off point. “We know where our bread is buttered”, he said. “We’re focused on the revenue sports and winning in football and men’s basketball.”

Now, that’s a sentence Pac-12 fans have longed to hear for a long time.

As to the media deal, here’s what CU”s chancellor, Phil DiStefano (who was a late addition to the search committee) had to say: “A key area – and there were many areas – but a key area coming up is our media rights, and working with ESPN, Fox,” DiStefano said. “For me that was definitely a priority, and I would say it’s a priority for my colleagues, as well. Definitely from my standpoint, having someone there to be able to negotiate our media rights, in ’23-‘24, that’s going to be extremely helpful to the Pac-12 as we move forward.

“(Kliavkoff) is a professional in his area and is really tied in to the major networks, as well as the streaming networks that I believe will be really important as we move toward a new media deal. That is definitely going to help the University of Colorado.”

Can Kliavkoff get the Pac-12 a seat at the big boys table, both at the playoff level, and at the media level?

Those are his marching orders, and those are the issues the search committee was focused on.

Perhaps the most optimistic quote came from Oregon President Michael Shill: “He’s very much a new prototype for new sports commissioners. Even without serving a day on the job, George is challenging all of us to envision what is possible for the Pac-12. Had we not hired George, we may have been competing against him.”

Fingers crossed …

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4 Replies to “George Kliavkoff: What We Got/What We Can Expect”

  1. Anyone that is not concerned is not paying attention to what has worked for the SEC and BIG10 (and ACC and BIG12 for that matter). Current and/or previous commissioners didn’t have to learn the job on the job. They had already been conference commissioners and AD’s and in general involved in college athletic administration. Larry Scott…not so much. George K…again…no.

    He said the right things, but let’s be honest, it’s not hard to see the problems the PAC12 is facing and call them out, it’s hard to solve them. I fear it will be especially hard with minimal experience in the world he now calls home. Smart as I’m sure he is.

    “The proof is in the pudding” is not exactly how I would phrase it. I’d go back to the original saying “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”. Meaning, the man will certainly make some pudding as PAC12 commissioner.

    But will the pudding be any good when we finally get to taste it.

    1. He is apparently a deal maker. But? What deals can be made when demand for the product is low? That is what I see as the problem. Pac 12 after dark was fun. There is great football and probably better basketball, in the pac. But in our footprint? It isn’t the end all be all. And outside our footprint? Boise state probably holds as much, or more interest.

      That is the battle to fight. I hope he can pull it off.

      Go Buffs

  2. The more I read about this hire the more that I like it. His experience in media and streaming including hulu & MLB is experience the conference needs badly, check.

    MGM sports & entertainment had him already working with the conference for the basketball tourneys, so he’s already known by those in the know, and they like working with him. Check.

    Maximizing his contacts in the entertainment industry in Las Vegas, LA (Hollywood), Silicone Valley (digital platforms) for all tired of NOT being able to get the PAC12 where they live through whom every they want, your choices should improve greatly. CHECK!

    Also using the above in the new Image & Licensing laws and navigating new and very choppy waters may just be better with his experience than some “football guy” may have brought to the table. Check?

    Turn all of that into better recruiting and the conference can start competing for top recruits that are currently looking at the big10 & SEC first. CHECK!

    Oh, and there is this new little thing called legal sports betting on college sports and he’s coming from MGM in Las Vegas… enough said, no “football guy” would have his contacts and experience; and CU is already on board with a sports betting deal. CHECK & Check… big checks I hope too. pun intented.

    Scott’s biggest accomplishment was keeping the other conferences from gutting the PAC10 while expanding, but he fell short in keeping the PAC12 as relevant and in the game compared to the “big boys”. Maybe should have gotten a few more too?

    Maybe, Kliavkoff can get us back up with the other power five conferences… and beat them or at least keep up, in the image and licenses game that’s coming to help the conference get back up there.

    Time will tell, but I like it… so far.

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