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CBS to pay SEC average of $55 million annually

CBS’s landmark 15-year deal for football and basketball rights to the Southeastern Conference will pay the conference an average of $55 million annually, industry sources said.

On the front end, the deal is expected to pay the SEC about $50 million a year and increase each year to a high of $60 million by the end of the term, according to multiple sources.

That represents about twice the value of the previous eight-year contract between the network and the conference, which is set to expire at the end of the 2008-09 season.

The SEC now will turn its focus to finishing off a deal with ESPN for cable rights to its football and basketball programming. The conference’s syndicated package also could be part of the ESPN deal, as the Disney unit seeks inventory for its college network, ESPNU.

“The CBS deal was not a complex deal. It really is an extension,” SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said. “Now our lives get much more complex with the rest of it. We’ve got to make a final decision about (an SEC) channel and, if not, the granting of those rights. We expect that to be done within 30 days.”

Raycom, which now owns the SEC’s syndicated rights, remains in talks with the SEC, said Jimmy Rayburn, executive producer for SEC football for Charlotte-based Raycom.

The 15-year deal is worth about twice as much
as the network’s previous SEC contract.

Industry sources say the SEC is not expected to launch its own network, as the Big Ten did, although Slive said the idea has not been totally removed from the table. The CBS deal leaves that option open.

While most network deals range from five to eight years, CBS’s arrangement with the SEC keeps the league and the network together through 2023.

“A 15-year deal is terrific for the SEC and for college sports,” said Kevin O’Malley, a TV consultant and former CBS executive. “College sports over the last five to six years have really experienced a renaissance. For CBS to go this far out with a deal shows the confidence that it’s going to continue.”

The inventory of games on CBS remains relatively unchanged. The SEC will get one football game per season on prime time and probably two doubleheaders per season. CBS receives first pick of the SEC “Game of the Week” each week.

One doubleheader, typically on Thanksgiving Saturday, will start at noon, followed by a 3:30 p.m. game. The other is usually a 3:30 p.m. game followed by an 8 p.m. kickoff.

CBS also will televise slightly fewer college basketball games. The network in the past showed anywhere from 17 to 20 regular-season SEC games and that number will drop to an average of about 14. CBS will no longer carry the SEC men’s basketball tournament championship game, either.

Also, CBS will have the right to stream its games live on CBSSports.com starting in 2009. “That’s possible, but we don’t know yet if that’s what we’re going to do,” said Mike Aresco, CBS’s executive vice president of programming. “We have found that streaming has not cannibalized our TV programming.”

CBS College Sports collected a bucket of rights, including the right to simulcast CBS’s games, though Aresco said he did not know if the network would do that.

The cable channel will be allowed to re-air CBS games and will have highlight rights and Olympic sports rights. The deal includes wireless, video-on-demand, data and enhanced highlight rights, as well.

“We’re pretty excited about the length of this,” Aresco said, pointing out that the 15-year deal is longer than the network’s other contracts.

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