Running back De'Anthony Thomas and Oregon will bring their high-powered… (Jim Z. Rider / US Presswire )
The question was posed Thursday to Eric Shanks, Fox Sports Media Group's co-president, and to the network's lead football play-by-play announcer, Gus Johnson:
How do you promote the inaugural Pac-12 Conference football championship game Friday?
The messy facts were then stated; that UCLA was coming off a 50-0 loss to USC and had a lame-duck coach in Rick Neuheisel; that Oregon had lost at home to USC a couple of weeks earlier in a game the Ducks never led.
"Go ahead, boss," Johnson said.
That left Shanks to give his spiel. "It's a championship game," he said. "There's a berth in the Rose Bowl at stake. It's going to be a celebration of a champion, it's Friday night, no competition."
Media consultant Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports, acknowledged the pairing was less than stellar but said the game was more than a one-night stand.
"It's a long-term thing," Pilson said. "It's a 12-year deal going on. Maybe the matchups aren't as favorable as you hoped, but I lived through some World Series sweeps during our first years with baseball. I remember when other TV people were worried about the struggle when San Antonio just didn't get good ratings for television in the NBA Finals.
"The Pac-12 is not losing sleep over this first year, and I'll go out on a limb," Pilson said. "The Pac-12 game will beat whatever Fox normally shows on Friday night."
Agent Leigh Steinberg predicted,
"Fox will be fine. First, you've got Oregon and its endless supply of colorful uniforms with the backing of [Nike's] Phil Knight and an incredibly exciting team offensively. And with UCLA you have the David-Goliath thing happening, and people love that."
Steinberg and Pilson also both noted that Los Angeles is the second-largest television market in the country. "Anybody would want that," Steinberg said.
Fox is also televising the debut of the first Big Ten Conference championship game Saturday night between Wisconsin and Michigan State in Indianapolis, and at least the Pac-12 didn't have to release a statement that it was not involved in a Craigslist hoax that made it seem as if the conference was willing to pay people to attend the game.
"The Big Ten Football Conference is NOT paying fans to attend," the conference announced on Twitter.
The Pac-12 decided to play its game at the home of the conference team with the best record, and Oregon's Autzen Stadium is sold out.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott noted that Fox had promoted the game on both its entertainment and NFL programming. "My understanding is that advertising is selling gangbusters but overall, this is just the beginning of a long-term relationship," he said.
According to Fox spokesman Dan Bell, advertising time for both games is expected to sell out.
And, unlike with viewers, advertisers can't abandon ship at halftime.