Thursday, May 31, 2012

Project X, SEC Network....It needs valuable content

As Sports Business Journal reported last month, the SEC is looking into a 24/7 conference network.  Termed Project X by the conference, it could be a boon to the conference.  The assumption among most is that ESPN would run it and that makes sense.  FOX and Comcast have experience running a channel dedicated to a conference (and on this day, RIP mtn.), but ESPN isn't going to let its SEC rights get away so someone else can manage them, particularly a competitor.

So what does the SEC need to do?

1) Fix scheduling - In a world with an SEC Network, 11/17/12 cannot happen.  I know that the schools want a tune up game going into their rivalry games, either within the conference or against an ACC team, but 11/17/12 (and its counterpart from last year, 11/15/11) were some of the leanest schedules I've seen for the SEC.  The conference needs to have teams push those to early in the season, or at least do a better job of spreading them out throughout the year.

2) Get conference games for the network - The SBJ articles mentions 2014 as the earliest a SEC Network could start because of existing agreements with FOX and Comcast.  That will certainly provide content, at least in men's basketball where that will cover a couple conference games per week, but they probably need to ditch the SEC Network syndication package (12:21pm ET football games, Wednesday & Saturday basketball games).  The FOX and Comcast packages today don't provide enough quality content, particularly in football

Conference games on FOX & Comcast regional packages
2009: 4 (Total games: 14)
2010: 5 (Total games: 15) 
2011: 3 (Total games: 15)

There were a few games sprinkled in vs. AQ competition in non-conference games too, so those do have some value.  If you add the PPV games to these, that's still a lot of weak sauce that isn't worth paying a big buck for.  They'll need at least the syndication package, and maybe some of the ESPNU games too, to make it worthwhile

3) Guarantee the conference network gets top or 2nd choice - Big Ten Network has 2nd choice some weeks. Pac-12 Network has top choice or 2nd choice.  The regional cable packages are usually low on the totem pole, hence the lack of conference games.  The network would be smart to get top choice in the 1st or  2nd week of the season (when CBS isn't picking games due to tennis) and get 2nd choice a couple times.

Of course, if they take the games off ESPNU or syndication, they'll have choices that will be of interest.

4) Guarantee that every team appears in a conference game - Both the Big Ten Network and Pac-12 Network have clauses in their primary deals with networks to ensure that all teams appear on the conference network:

  • Big Ten Network - Each team must make two appearances on BTN and one must be a conference game
  • Pac-12 Network - FOX and ESPN can claim a team for no more than nine appearances as part of the Pac-12 TV contract.  Since the Pac-12 has nine conference games, the Pac-12 Network either gets a school as part of a non-conference home game, or is ESPN/FOX pick a non-conference game from a school, one of their conference games will be on the Pac-12 Network.
CBS does have limits for how many times they can select a team to appear (no more than six times with an exception for seven, SEC Championship excluded), so it is built in that games are available for ESPN to have from every school.  That needs to extend to an SEC Network with limits on ESPN's ability to choose a team for national airing.



Unknown said...

the scheduling answer is easy....get rid of the multitude of meaningless cupcake games that all BCS conferences schedule against 1-AA, SunBelt, WAC and MAC teams. replace them with Mountain West, Conf. USA or other BCS conference teams. The non conference product is just weak from week to week. The only hope of this happening, of course, is the elimination of the voting polls from post season consideration because these polls penalize any loss and reward any victory. In addition the Bowl games must be controlled to avoid rewarding teams which purposely schedule as easy as possible to rack up otherwise meaningless W's (re: Virginia Tech)

Bill said...

Good read as always. Agree w/ all points.

The interesting challenge the schedule makers in the SEC will continue to face in the current format will be taking an 8 game conference schedule and finding ways to spread it out over 12-13 weeks. It is true that the B1G has its' fair share of crummy non conference games on BTN, but these are usually confined to the first four weeks of the season. The blessing and curse of the spread out SEC conference schedule is having quality conference matchups early on (UF-TA&M, Ala-Ark, LSU-Aub), but in turn, moving weak non conference matchups late into the season (as you pointed out: 11/17), and thus, poor offerings in November in general on the ESPN syndication package and with the sublicense partners. Assuming this grouping of games will one day translate into SEC Network offerings, such contests are unacceptable for such a league network seeking to achieve maximum value.

Relating to non conference scheduling longer term, it will be interesting to see if the SEC enters into some sort of scheduling "alliance" (ala B1G-Pac 12) with the ACC or Big XII. I think such an alliance would be an easier sell to the coaches than moving to a 9 game conference schedule. This could help generate additional quality games for the conference's TV partners (particularly ESPN and SEC Net) and assist in solving some of these problems if implemented appropriately/strategically.

In the meantime, the league may need to take matters into its' own hands, and simply make a small cut to the number of September conference games and move a couple of them back into November. Don't see how the league can sell that 11/17 schedule to CBS or ESPN as the penultimate week of the season in arguably the best football conference in the country.

BTW, do you anticipate any changes to CBS/ESPN deals re:scheduling/exclusivity as it relates to the ongoing negotiations between the league and the tv partners in anticipation of a SEC Network?