George Kliavkoff is the new Pac-12 commissioner, the conference announced Thursday, finally letting the conference and all its fans turn the page on a Larry Scott tenure that saw the conference relegated to second-tier status in both football and men’s basketball.
But true to form for this conference, it’s a name completely out of left field. Kliavkoff comes to the Pac-12 from MGM Resorts International, where he served as the President of Entertainment & Sports. There is a huge red flag in that Kliavkoff has no experience in college sports and specifically college football, where the conference significantly lags behind the other Power 5 conference both financially and in reputation. This was the same red flag that was raised when Scott was named commissioner, and while he found successes in certain areas, his tenure is pretty unanimously considered a disaster. Kliavkoff will be challenged to surround himself with voices who understand the college football landscape and can help push the conference to a level at least on par with the other Power 5 conferences.
“I am thrilled to be the Pac-12 Commissioner,” Kliavkoff said in a statement released by the conference. “This is a challenging time for intercollegiate athletics, but I believe these challenges also create significant opportunities. I loved being a student-athlete, and I’m passionate about the doors that college sports and higher education open for young women and men. My job at the Pac-12 will be to help manage the balance between continued academic excellence, student-athlete well-being and an even higher level of athletic achievement.”
His extensive experience with digital media should be a massive help the Pac-12 moving forward since the conference’s media rights are up for a new contract soon and the lack of exposure nationally is one of the biggest handicaps the Pac-12 is dealing with right now. It surely wasn’t the only reason he was hired, but that had to be a major box checked in the search. He’s been successful financially in his endeavors and he knows how to bring eyes and attention to events, which is a huge plus considering the Pac-12 is at a clear disadvantage when it comes to drawing national attention due to the time slots the teams are given.
According to a press released at the time of his hiring by MGM, his activities there would include being “responsible for the operations, finance, strategy, booking, marketing, sponsorships and ticketing for MGM Resorts’ more than 30 theaters, showrooms and arenas, including T-Mobile Arena (home of the NHL Vegas Golden Knights), MGM Grand Garden, Mandalay Bay Events Center, the Mandalay Bay Beach, Park Theater, the Theater at MGM National Harbor and the MassMutual Center at MGM Springfield.”
His experience in Las Vegas is a natural connection for the Pac-12. The conference hosts its basketball conference tournaments there and is moving its football championship game there as well. The conference headquarters being located in San Francisco has been a completely unnecessary financial burden and moving those out to Las Vegas could be an option now as well. It will also be interesting to see what happens with sports betting and the potential Vegas connection. Colorado made waves last fall when it announced a partnership with PointsBet, marking the first major advertising partnership between a school and an online sports betting company.
His past history also includes time spent as Executive Vice President, Business at MLB Advanced Media, Chief Digital Officer with NBCUniversal Media and an Interim CEO with Hulu.
He also served as the CEO of Jaunt Inc., an augmented and virtual reality content studio that worked with a number of clients, including the NFL, NBA and MLB.
It would not be surprising to see Kliavkoff have a number of opinions and ideas about the upcoming NIL rules, and be able to position the Pac-12 advantageously when it comes to those and promoting its student-athletes.
According to the Sports Business Journal, Kliavkoff signed a five-year deal that begins on July 1.
Three reasons why Kliavkoff was hired by the Pac-12:
* He brings a rich background in media, especially digital. At MLBAM, he was at the forefront of bringing all of the teams together into a single digital entity and then monetizing it. He was part of the team that launched Hulu. He helped move the “TV Everywhere” concept forward at NBCUniversal by putting 2,200 hours of Olympic programming online and on mobile phones in 2008. The conference will be quick to point out that Kliavkoff is not just a “media guy,” but many of his strengths are rooted there.
* Kliavkoff’s experience running a massive live events business at MGM Resorts Int’l positions him well because running live events is at the heart of what conferences do. He’s undoubtedly evolved his thinking on the fan experience as well after three years in Las Vegas.
*Most everywhere Kliavkoff has been, he’s encountered longtime legacy brands, sometimes stodgy brands, in need of change, and he has taken on those challenges. NBC, MLBAM, MGM, they all fall into that category. College athletics, which often are slow to change, fit that same description. With athlete compensation, ongoing legal battles and more change coming, perhaps from Congress, the Pac-12’s leadership found Kliavkoff’s experience in managing change to be a supreme asset.
The Pac-12 presidents were extremely secretive during the deliberations about the new commissioner and a true direction never really leaked. But some of the names up for discussion included former NCAA executive and NFL quarterback Oliver Luck, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith and Texas AD Chris Del Conte, all of whom had strong ties to college football.