Looking to become more of a player for national college football and basketball championships, as well as elevate the conference reputation and its financial bottom line, the Pac-12 on Thursday selected sports business executive George Kliavkoff as its next commissioner, replacing Larry Scott.
Kliavkoff, 54, comes to the conference from MGM Resorts International, where he was president of entertainment and sports. He has an extensive background in fan experience and content creation and distribution.
At the same time, Kliavkoff was somewhat of a surprise selection, not mentioned at all in media accounts leading up to his hiring, while coming from a sports event company with betting involvement.
"I understand I was not on any media short lists for this job," he said.
Kliavkoff said he would push to expand the college football playoffs from its current four-team format and help launch name, image and likeness possibilities for conference athletes.
In increasing league competitive levels, the new leader said he would have the Pac-12 renew its focus on recruiting, address non-conference and conference schedules and TV times, and fix structural issues. He also noted that Pac-12 Networks has the lowest number of subscribers among the leading conferences and that platform needs attention.
"Everything is up for review to make us more competitive," Kliavkoff said.
He was voted in unanimously by Pac-12 presidents and chancellors, and his five-year contract begins on July 1.
At MGM Resorts International, Kliavkoff managed one of the largest live entertainment and sports businesses in the world and also oversaw the company’s sponsorship spend with professional and college sports leagues, conferences — including the Pac-12 men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and the Pac-12 football championship game — and teams. Additionally, he led the company’s global sponsorship sales efforts and sat on the board of BetMGM, one of the three largest U.S. sports betting companies.
"This is a challenging time for intercollegiate athletics, but I believe these challenges also create significant opportunities,” Kliavkoff said, a former Boston University rower. “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.”
Kliavkoff co-led the Hearst Entertainment & Syndication, overseeing Hearst’s interests in cable television networks, including ESPN, A&E, Lifetime and HISTORY.
He previously was the first chief digital officer at NBCUniversal, where he set corporate digital media strategy and developed new business models and markets. At NBCU, Kliavkoff partnered with News Corp to create and launch Hulu. He served as the interim CEO of Hulu until the first full-time CEO was hired.
Prior to NBCU, Kliavkoff was executive vice president of business for Major League Baseball Advanced Media and managed corporate development, business development, and baseball’s digital media subscription and licensing businesses.
A proponent of women’s sports, he served as a member of the Board of Governors of the WNBA and managed the Las Vegas Aces WNBA franchise prior to selling the team earlier this year to Las Vegas Raiders Owner Mark Davis.
"George is a visionary leader with an extraordinary background as a pioneering sports, entertainment and digital media executive, and we are delighted and honored that he has agreed to become our next Pac-12 Commissioner,” said Michael Schill, University of Oregon president and chair of the search committee. “He is the new prototype for a sports commissioner."
Scott, 56, announced in January that he would not seek a contract extension for a job he has held for 11 years with decidedly mixed results. He will assist in the transitioning of the new leader until June 30.
A former pro tennis executive and a New York native, Scott oversaw the league entering the modern era of college athletics, expanding the then Pac-10 to the Pac-12 with the addition of Colorado and Utah, yet the conference has not won a national championship in football since 2004 or in basketball since 1997, which are major sticking points.
Scott became a polarizing figure for lavishly spending while having his leadership become viewed as stale and ineffective. He was heavily criticized for the way he delayed the most recent Pac-12 football season to November because of the global health crisis, later than any of the other Power 5 conferences.
Others who were linked to the job were Randy Freer, the former Fox Network Group president who negotiated the company’s Tier 1 media rights deal with the Pac-12; Oliver Luck, the former West Virginia athletic director and NCAA executive vice president who has ran NFL Europe and the XFL; Bill Moos, the former Washington State football player who served as athletic director at WSU and Oregon and is currently at Nebraska; and Gloria Nevarez, the former Pac-12 senior associate commissioner who left in 2018 to take charge of the West Coast Conference.
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