Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Conference TV Contract: The SEC

The SEC is the 800 lb gorilla of college football. A conference steeped in tradition, rivalry and pagaentry and one that is consistently the cream of the crop when it comes to the product on the field. And thanks to new contracts with CBS and ESPN, you won't be able to escape watching the conference on Saturdays.

The SEC's new TV deals are the Rolls-Royce of television contracts. Starting with the CBS contract, the SEC will have 14 regular season games on CBS and the conference championship game. Under the previous contract, ESPN was allowed to select ahead of CBS a few times per year. That is no longer the case and CBS will have the top pick from the SEC every week. The contract with CBS runs for 15 years. The CBS windows are exclusive windows so that no other SEC telecast can occur at the same time.

ESPN's contract with the SEC is even more expansive. Previously ESPN/ESPN2 had the rights to 18 games, with the rest of the selections going to Raycom Sports, back to the schools for PPV or games just went untelevised. No games on ESPNU either. Now ESPN Networks owns the rights to all games not selected by CBS. ESPN/ESPN2 now has the rights to 20 games and ESPNU has a primetime window for the SEC every week (at least 13 games). So the SEC has drastically increased its number of national telecasts. ESPN Classic will also have the option to select games if there is a surplus of games available. ESPN windows are not exclusive, allowing for other regional telecasts to occur at the same time

ESPN Regional Television then created the SEC Network, replacing the Raycom Sports component of the TV deal. Unlike Raycom who concentrated their efforts in SEC states, ERT has ramped up something close to a national network of affiliates to carry these games, mixing regional sports networks and over the air stations, several from markets which did not carry the Raycom telecasts in the past. The SEC Network games will kick off at 12:21pm ET and the telecast window starts off with a brief pregame show.

A second regional component was carved out when ESPN sublicensed games to a pair of regional broadcasters in the southeast, Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast (CSS) and the Fox Sports Net regional networks covering the SEC states (FSSouth, FSSouthwest and Sun Sports). FSN has access to seven games and CSS has access to at least six games. These games are typically in the evening, but must occur outside of the CBS telecast window.

Anything that isn't picked up by the entities revert back to the schools for them to produce PPV telecasts. Under the new deal, schools may not produce more than one PPV game per season. Judging by the sheer number of telecast options available, that should not be an issue. The PPVs, on the surface, appear to be mostly non-conference games.

The SEC also has some unique schedule quirks. For example, several games are played on a specific Saturday every season, like Tennessee-Alabama and Florida-Georgia. In addition to the specific date for Florida-Georgia, because it is consistently played off campus in Jacksonville, FL, the schools also have requested that the game be a day game every year, which means that it is likely that the game will always be selected by CBS for telecast.

The final splash that the SEC made was to regain their copyright. Not a lot was made of this important detail and no one could really explain what it meant, but the SEC will now be able to make money off of classic games and sublicense these games to video providers on television and the Internet and be able to receive an additional revenue stream.

The SEC, previously the best in football with one of the lousiest TV deals in terms of national telecasts and PPV, now gets to have its cake and eat it too. Conferences are now scurrying to find out whether they can get something comparable to the SEC in terms of coverage since they likely won't match them in revenue. Won't be able to escape them this fall or any fall for the foreseeable future.

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