Caught up Wednesday morning with Lydia Murphy-Stephans, newly named president of Pac-12 Networks, who was in New York to attend Sports Business Journal’s sports business awards ceremony. Pac-12 Networks was nominated by the publication in the best-in-sports-television category, which, as Murphy-Stephans says, is “in itself a huge accomplishment for us. Just to be named among the other candidates is a big win for us.”
Also in the running are CBS Sports, ESPN, NBC Sports Group and Time-Warner Cable Sports. Indeed, it’s a coup for Pac-12 Networks, which, a year ago at this time, was still 2 1/2 months from its launch.
I wish I could say more definitively what puts the Pac-12 Networks in New York tonight, but I’m one of those lost souls who have DirecTV and have been willing to hold onto its positives while enduring the void of not having Pac-12 Networks, other than on an iPhone. By now, you’re well aware that Pac-12 Networks and DirecTV haven’t agreed to terms.
Amazing to me how, every time I’ve written something on Pac-12 Networks, or read something elsewhere on them, the comments inevitably turn to the DirecTV controversy. That has to drive the Pac-12 nuts, but it seems to be reality.
To me, and those other DirecTV subscribers, Murphy-Stephans has a forceful message:
“We’re on schedule, and right on plan, in terms of distribution for the Pac-12 Networks,” she said. “I feel good about that. There’s an obligation as fans, that if they want Pac-12 Networks and DirecTV is not carrying the Pac-12 Networks, the fan has to be willing to drop DirecTV and pick up a carrier that is.
“It’s a very difficult and complicated business and I am in the trenches with it. Fans just can’t hang onto DirecTV and put all the onus on the Pac-12. We can offer it and provide DirecTV with a very fair business offer, the same one (other carriers have contracted for), but we can’t force DirecTV to take it. This is where I’m going to ask fans to step up.”
Will DirecTV get on board by football season, as is widely believed? “I never predict it,” Murphy-Stephans said.
In other news, there’s a tentative date of May 29, next Wednesday, for the release of TV assignments for the early Pac-12 football schedule. That means the first three weeks, and possibly some isolated games beyond, that are selected by Fox, ESPN and the Pac-12 Networks without use of the six- and 12-day windows that become in force by week four (and frankly, make a lot of fans crazy because of the uncertain starting times).
Murphy-Stephans, who was elevated to her current position when Gary Stevenson left his job as president of Pac-12 Enterprises a month ago, says football-announcing teams will also be revealed then. Yogi Roth will assume a more prominent role, but don’t expect major surprises there.
Year two of the Networks will include a half-hour Sunday-night show that wraps up the week’s events and looks to the following week, co-hosted by Mike Yam and Ashley Adamson. When Murphy-Stephans mentioned that it would be “chock full of features,” I asked if a half-hour will be enough.
“Probably not,” she said. “If we determine 30 minutes isn’t enough, we’ll make it one hour. The key word we use with our staff is agility.”
Over Memorial Day weekend, the Pac-12 Networks will air its 550th live event of the school year, a pretty remarkable number, yet short of the 850 live events Stevenson talked about originally. Next year, the Networks will bump that number by 200, says Murphy-Stephans, with baseball likely to see the biggest increase. Women’s basketball likely will move from about 65 to about 95 live telecasts. (Football will continue with 35 and men’s hoops with 150.)
Asked what she feels the Networks did well the first year, Murphy-Stephans says, “Provide exposure for our 12 universities and our student-athletes. I think we did that really well and with very, very high-quality productions.”
Sometimes, the production, technical and coordination challenges are immense. Says Murphy-Stephans, a 1984 Olympic speed-skater who has a quarter-century in sports television, “It’s non-stop. I love it on a good day, and on a bad day, it’s ‘What you have gotten yourself into?’ ”
The fact she’s in New York tonight suggests that’s something pretty good.