SEC focused on finalizing new TV package with ESPN/ABC
All has been quiet for the two months since news first leaked that the Southeastern Conference was closing in on a new media agreement with ABC/ESPN for the conference’s football game of the week broadcast package. Deal papers still haven’t been signed, press releases have not been written, and a formal announcement is still at least a month away, sources say.
The SEC gave the conference’s 14 SEC athletic directors an update on the negotiations two weeks ago at their winter meetings in New Orleans, and sources say the talks remain focused on finalizing the deal with ABC/ESPN, which would replace the league’s longtime partner, CBS. The two sides have reached agreement on the thorniest issues, including price.
ESPN has agreed to pay an annual fee in the low $300 million range, a substantial increase from the $55 million per year that CBS currently pays. That would translate to an increase from $3.7 million per game to $20 million per game.
The big remaining question is whether ESPN will be able to buy CBS out of the four years remaining on its deal, which originally was signed in 2008. The deal has long been considered a sweetheart arrangement for the network because it includes the first pick of SEC football games each week, a prime-time game and the SEC championship game. ESPN already has the cable rights to SEC football.
CBS’s SEC games have been television’s most-viewed college football package for a remarkable 11 years in a row.
Even though it will be a lame duck, it’s likely that CBS will produce the SEC package this fall, sources said. Given how economically favorable the deal is for CBS, it would take a huge offer by ESPN to convince CBS to leave the deal before it ends in four seasons.
SEC executives decided to pursue this deal so early as a way to get in front of the NFL negotiations, which are expected to take billions of dollars in potential rights fees out of the market. Given the declining numbers of cable TV homes, combined with the importance of live sports programming to TV networks, big leagues and major conferences have never held more leverage in these talks.
The SEC liked the idea of doing the deal with ESPN because it creates more scheduling flexibility. That’s because ESPN will hold the rights to all of the games on both cable and broadcast. CBS’s current deal, which runs through the 2023 football season, doesn’t allow for SEC games to run on ABC/ESPN in that 3:30 p.m. window.
By adding the SEC championship game, ABC/ESPN will own the rights to the championship games for the ACC and Big 12 each year, and the Pac-12 championship every other season. Fox has the Big Ten title game and the other half of the Pac-12 championship games.