MGM’s Kliavkoff Named Pac-12 Commissioner With Media Test on Horizon

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The Pac-12 Conference’s next commissioner will be MGM Resorts executive George Kliavkoff, a college sports newcomer who will be tasked with growing league revenue, particularly on the media side.

Kliavkoff has been president of entertainment and sports at MGM, one of the world’s largest live event companies, since 2018. In that role he has overseen the operations, finance, ticketing and sponsorships for the company’s 30-plus theaters, showrooms and arenas, including the home of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights.

Kliavkoff has signed a five-year deal that starts July 1, the conference said in a statement. His compensation was not disclosed.

It’s another outside-the-box hire for the Pac-12, in an industry that typically promotes from within. He’s replacing controversial commissioner Larry Scott, who joined the conference in 2009 with little college sports experience.

“At each step of his career, George has navigated complex, quickly changing environments and has been a successful consensus-builder,” Oregon president Michael H. Schill, chair of the five-member search committee, said in a statement. “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.”

Kliavkoff is taking over a conference at a crossroads of sorts. While the Pac-12 has some of the country’s most successful athletic departments, and is dominant in many Olympic sports, it is falling behind rivals like the Big Ten and the SEC financially. That’s created concern that its schools may permanently lose pace in the revenue-generating sports of football and men’s basketball.

The Pac-12’s schools each received about $32.2 million from the conference in fiscal 2019, revenue that comes primarily from media contracts. That was on par with the ACC ($29 million) but trailed distributions in both the Big Ten ($55.6 million) and the SEC ($44.3 million).

Kliavkoff will inherit a media strategy, championed by Scott, that many consider the main reason for the revenue gap. While other leagues were partnering with Fox Sports or ESPN to launch joint networks, Scott pushed the Pac-12 to go it alone. It’s resulted in a league that controls all its TV rights but is paid far less for them.

Against the backdrop of a rapidly changing media landscape, Kliavkoff will have to try using that flexibility to the league’s advantage. The conference’s 12-year media deals with ESPN and FOX, once the most lucrative broadcast accords in the NCAA, expire in 2024, one year after the Big Ten’s current deals and one year before the Big 12’s. Suitors will almost definitely include sports cable giants, as well as streaming services that are looking to beef up their live rights portfolios.

Kliavkoff, 54, has experience directly in media. He previously co-led Hearst’s cable television networks, a group that included ESPN, Lifetime and A&E, and he was the first chief digital officer at NBCUniversal. Prior to that he was executive vice president of business for Major League Baseball Advanced Media.

He’s served on the WNBA board of governors and managed the league’s Las Vegas Aces prior to the team’s sale to Raiders owner Mark Davis. Kliavkoff also sits on the board of BetMGM, the gambling joint venture between MGM and Entain.

Scott agreed in January to leave his post on June 30, one year before his contract was set to expire. He had been the highest-paid commissioner in college sports, earning more than $5 million a year pre-COVID, as he steered the Pac-12 through the massive conference realignments in the early 2010s. But more recently he was criticized for his approach to league media rights, conference spending, and his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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