Pac-12 announces MGM executive George Kliavkoff as next commissioner

Kliavkoff brings a background in sports business but is relatively new to college sports.

MGM Resorts International executive George Kliavkoff will be the next Pac-12 Commissioner, the conference announced Thursday. Kliavkoff has served as MGM’s president of sports and entertainment since 2018.

Kliavkoff received unanimous approval from the Pac-12′s president and chancellors. His five-year contract begins July 1.

“I am thrilled to be the Pac-12 Commissioner. This is a challenging time for intercollegiate athletics, but I believe these challenges also create significant opportunities,” Kliavkoff said in a Pac-12 statement announcing the hire. “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.”

Kliavkoff brings to the position years of experience as a sports business executive. He currently oversees MGM’s sponsorships with various professional and college sports leagues and is a board member of sports betting company BetMGM — a noteworthy detail in a time when the Pac-12 could become the first major conference to align itself with sports betting.

He also previously worked on the WNBA’s Board of Governors while managing the Las Vegas Aces franchise, and he was the executive vice president of business for Major League Baseball Advanced Media, managing the league’s media subscription and licensing businesses, among other duties. He later worked at NBCUniversal as the company’s first chief digital officer, partnering with News Corp to launch Hulu, where he briefly served as interim CEO.

The hire, though, didn’t come without some initial skepticism. While Kliavkoff is well-versed in media and betting and could provide a boost to the oft-maligned Pac-12 Networks, he comes with virtually no college sports experience — much like his predecessor Larry Scott, who announced Jan. 20 his stepping down from the position following a widely unpopular tenure.

“[Kliavkoff] is incredibly thoughtful ... He knows what he knows, but more importantly, knows what he doesn’t know,” said Michael Schill, University of Oregon president, chair of the Pac-12 CEO Group and chair of the five-person search committee that included USC president Carol Folt.

Kliavkoff said he will begin a “listening tour” where he will meet with university athletic directors and coaches from various men’s and women’s sports as well as student-athletes.

A former student-athlete himself as a rower with Boston University, Kliavkoff outlined his top three missions in taking over as Pac-12 Commissioner, first among which is to protect and support student-athletes. His second stated goal is to optimize revenue for member institutions — including by renegotiating media distribution — and third, to make the conference more competitive in revenue-generating sports, especially football.

Kliavkoff also said he is in favor of expanding the College Football Playoff, though he said he has not yet done sufficient research to assess whether conference champions should receive automatic bids.

When asked about the conference’s greatest weakness, Kliavkoff said, “If we’re being honest, it’s the number of years since [the Pac-12 has] won a football or men’s basketball championship.” (That number is 17 for football; 24 for men’s basketball.)

Schill stressed that Kliavkoff was chosen because of his potential to address the changing sports landscape.

“What drew us to George was his ability to see where the hockey puck was going to go,” Schill said. “Intercollegiate athletics, and the Pac-12 specifically, is at a critical crossroads. We believe George is the right person to meet today’s challenges, but even more importantly, the challenges of the future.

“He is the new prototype for a sports commissioner.”