How Pac-12 Can Improve Preseason Rankings and Boost TV Ratings | Panda Anku

The Pac-12 placed just three teams in Monday’s Associated Press preseason poll of the top 25, tying the Big 12 for the smallest contingent among the Power Five leagues and continuing a downward trend for the conference that didn’t is as meaningless as it seems.

Utah finished at No. 7, the highest starting position in school history, followed by No. 11 Oregon and No. 14 USC. The SEC led all leagues with six teams in the top-25, including No. 1 Alabama.

The pre-season human polls and computer rankings are often dismissed as meaningless predictions, but they matter locally as a potential spark for ticket sales and philanthropy.

Due to the multiplier effect, the AP survey also has a lasting effect at conference level. The more teams that are ranked at the start of the season, the greater the likelihood of large-scale substitution during the season.

These in-season rankings impact choices made by television networks, which tend to use premium broadcast windows for matchups between the top 25 teams.

“Preseason leaderboards aren’t real, but they affect how teams move up and down once they start beating each other in conference play,” said Sam Schwartzstein, who served as director of operations, innovation and 2018-20 Strategy of the XFL and has studied the analytics behind college-level attendance and television ratings.

“You want to end up with as many ranked matches as possible.”

The Pac-12 has drawn a pretty clear arc in the AP preseason poll since adding Colorado and Utah in the summer of 2011.

Poorly represented at first, before the recent downturn it enjoyed an excellent middle haul:

2011Three: #3 Oregon, #7 Stanford, #25 USC

2012Three: #1 USC, #5 Oregon, #21 Stanford

2013Five: #3 Oregon, #4 Stanford, #21 UCLA, #24 USC, #25 Oregon State

2014Six: #3 Oregon, #7 UCLA, #11 Stanford, #15 USC, #19 ASU, #25 Washington

2015Six: #7 Oregon, #8 USC, #13 UCLA, #15 ASU, #21 Stanford, #22 Arizona

2016Five: #8 Stanford, #14 Washington, #16 UCLA, #20 USC, #24 Oregon

2017Four: #4 USC, #8 Washington, #14 Stanford, #24 Washington State

2018Four: #6 Washington, #13 Stanford, #15 USC, #24 Oregon

2019Five: #11 Oregon, #13 Washington, #14 Utah, #23 Washington State, #25 Stanford

2020Three: #9 Oregon, #17 USC, #22 Utah

2021Five: #11 Oregon, #15 USC, #20 Washington, #24 Utah, #25 ASU

2022Three: #7 Utah, #11 Oregon, #14 USC

Schwartzstein, a former Stanford offensive lineman, used predictive models to develop business strategies for the XFL.

He believes the Pac-12 should take whatever steps are necessary to “put your content machine in front of as many people as possible”.

This process begins well before the first whistle and ties in closely with a page from the Pac-12 playbook that hasn’t been used in years: The conference should consider inviting the head coaches and top players on a media tour in late spring East Coast, Schwartzstein said, with stations in New York City and ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut.

That is exactly what happened in the early years of former Commissioner Larry Scott’s tenure as he attempted to raise the national profile of the conference. But the annual trips eventually ended, partly because of opposition from the head coaches.

Stanford’s David Shaw had a solo appearance in Bristol in the summer of 2018 for the so-called “Car Wash,” which saw college coaches experience a barrage of interviews with ESPN reporters, appear on ESPN shows and chat with ESPN executives.

The conference could also send coaches and players to New York City:

Of the 63 media representatives who took part in the AP poll, 11 live in New England or the Mid-Atlantic region. (The AP voter distribution is based on the total number of FBS teams in each state.)

With the growth of video conferencing options like Zoom, in-person travel to the East Coast isn’t strictly necessary for early-season promotion.

But timing of all efforts is critical: The Pac-12 should make every effort to begin its public relations campaign before mid-July, when other Power Five leagues hold their in-person media celebrations.

The accepted approach of holding off on the first half of summer until the Pac-12’s own media bash in Los Angeles in late July makes it difficult for teams and players to gain meaningful traction with voters — especially in the AP’s preseason ballots are due August 1st.

But above all, the change in PR dynamics requires the approval of coaches and players.

The conference bureau simply has no mechanism to commit key football personnel to attending late spring and early summer media events that could influence voters, affect rankings and position the Pac-12 to benefit from the multiplier effect.

“The rankings drive the number of visitors and they determine the TV decisions,” said Schwartzstein.

“The Pac-12 needs to think about how to get as many teams as possible into the preseason leaderboard.”

*** Note: Jon Wilner is an AP voter. You can find his preseason poll here.

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