PASADENA — After an East Coast promotional blitz that included stops at the New York Times and ESPN headquarters, the Pac-10 returned to familiar turf Thursday for its annual preseason media gathering.

Except there was nothing familiar about it.

Instead of a Los Angeles airport hotel, the event was held at the league's symbolic home, the Rose Bowl — smack in the middle of the brilliant green turf.

Instead of opening remarks by the commissioner, the event began with a highlight video featuring past stars such as John Elway and Marcus Allen and a booming, James Earl Jones-esque voice-over.

The new logo was everywhere — on the field, on the podium's backdrop, on the shirts worn by coaches and players.

League officials talked about West Coast "dynamism" and digital initiatives and "ushering in a new future."

"An activity like this, and taking our show to the East Coast — it's all designed to promote what we always felt was an undervalued conference," UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said. "It's all part of creating momentum going forward, as we head into our media rights negotiations."

Those negotiations, set to begin next winter, are the key to the league's future — so important to its core mission that second-year commissioner Larry Scott has based his every move on them.

Attempting to create a 16-team superconference, then settling for adding Colorado and Utah, exploring the possibility of a Pac-12 network, ringing the Nasdaq opening bell, taking Thursday's event to the Rose Bowl — it's all designed to increase the league's value before Scott sits down at the negotiating table with ESPN and/or Fox.

League officials are hopeful that the new TV deal and other initiatives, including a football championship game, will generate an additional $40 million-$50 million in annual revenue beginning with the 2012-13 fiscal year.

That windfall, while generated by the football programs, won't be used specifically for the football programs. Rather, it will bolster ailing athletic department budgets and preserve that which the conference holds near and dear to its heart: the so-called Olympic sports.

The Pac-10 has won more NCAA championships than any other conference, but its future success in everything from volleyball to water polo depends on closing the $100 million revenue gap with the Big Ten and Southeastern conferences.

And there's only one way to do that — only one major source of untapped revenue: football media rights.

"We cannot compete with the Big Ten and the SEC if we don't close that gap," Washington athletic director Scott Woodward said. "We cannot afford to pay top coaches, or build facilities. All this emphasis on souping up our brand — it's all about staying competitive."

And continuing to provide the broad-based athletic opportunity at the heart of the league's sporting mission.

An extra $5 million could have saved Washington's swimming programs, which were cut because of budget woes. It could have saved Arizona State's men's tennis team. It could have saved jobs at Stanford and Washington.

And an extra $5 million would do wonders for Cal, where jobs and sports are in jeopardy because of the athletic department's $7 million-$10 million annual deficit.

"Preserving sports is a hot topic at Cal," Scott said. "How we do (at the negotiating table) will have a direct impact on the future of a number of sports.

"The student athletes will lose their opportunities if we're not successful. That's what's at stake."

For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner's College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports. Contact him at jwilner@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5716.