Manifest destiny: the SEC’s new TV deal

One thing to consider as you scratch your head, shake your fist, pound the table, shrug your shoulders or whatever else you might do in response to the SEC’s grand poobahs’ struggle with what to do about conference scheduling is that these guys genuinely believe themselves to be the cat’s meow as marketers.

That’s what the numbers tell them, anyway.

According to Nielsen, the SEC was far and away the most watched conference in college football last fall.

The league averaged a shade under 4.5 million viewers per telecast. That figure was about 1.2 million more than the next-highest conference, the Big Ten with almost 3.3 million per telecast. Believe it or not, the third-highest conference was the ACC with 2.65 million viewers per telecast. The Big 12 was fourth with 2.3 million per telecast, the Pac-12 was fifth with 2.1 million per telecast, and the Big East was sixth with 1.9 million per telecast.

You draw 50% more viewership than your closest competitor, that can give you the big head.  And there’s no question that SEC football has a special cachet that translates handsomely into the bottom line.  Just ask Texas A&M.

But there’s something else to keep in mind, too.  The conference which draws the most eyeballs by a wide margin has only the third best broadcast deal as compensation for that.  In other words, while these guys may see themselves as geniuses, reality suggests they’re far from infallible.

So when Seth Emerson writes,

The ACC and the Pac-12 went to nine games because in part there are more teams in those leagues that can give up a home guarantee game. The likes of Duke, Wake Forest, Maryland, Utah and Washington State aren’t selling out every home game. But SEC teams can schedule almost anybody and fill up their stadium…

I think that’s both accurate on his part and shortsighted on the part of those he’s writing about.  For one thing, there’s no way anybody knows today what the impact over the next few years will be on, say, the Georgia fan base, if the Auburn game is replaced with a home game against a steady stream of cupcake schools.  (Home schedules like this year’s aren’t exactly endearing Greg McGarity to the people making Hartman Fund contributions and buying season tickets.)

For another, besides the reason Emerson mentions, those other conferences adding a ninth game are doing so because it makes good business sense to enhance their broadcast product.  The SEC has already guessed wrong on TV, a mistake it’s trying to fix through conference expansion.  It could be wrong again.  Maybe we SEC folks are fanatical enough to watch Arkansas play a Sun Belt school instead of a good Pac-12 conference matchup, but is the typical college football fan?

I don’t know.  And it’s fair to say that once Slive gets the new TV deals in place, the conference won’t care for a while.  It’s natural to rest after a big kill.  But if there is attrition down the road, if the moves that are made this summer dim fan enthusiasm and impact revenues – which is what these guys ultimately care about – will they be able to get the genie back in the bottle by making corrections?

My heart says that may be difficult because they’re not as smart as they think they are.  But my head says we should never underestimate the American sports fan’s willingness to get dumped on by the people in charge and come back for more.  It’s how we’re wired.  They count on that.  So don’t get your hopes up with what they’re getting ready to do.

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30 Comments

Filed under It's Just Bidness, SEC Football

30 responses to “Manifest destiny: the SEC’s new TV deal

  1. 81Dog

    for the purposes of tv money, raw numbers count, but the demographics of the numbers count, too. I have no idea how closely the average SEC football viewer fits the profile of the ideal ad target for football games, but depending on the number of households in Alabama that make up part of that 4.5 million, it could mean that the SEC’s raw numbers arent as good as they seem to be. I mean, how many double wide manufacturers are buying national television ad time? Meth manufacturers and retailers dont even advertise.

    I’m just sayin’…..

  2. ChicagoDawg

    “Home schedules like this year’s aren’t exactly endearing Greg McGarity to the people making Hartman Fund contributions and buying season tickets.” — I think this reality is coming into full relief for McGarity as, for the first time I can ever recall seeing, UGA is advertising tickets/Hartman contribution on ACJ.com. Just as fans may demand a more compelling slate of offerings (i.e. an additional SEC match-up of LSU vs. LA-Lafayette) for the Hartman contribution + ticket outlay, so too might CBS and WWL.

    Next stop on the marketing campaign — 4 dogs, 4 cokes, 4 tickets

    • ChicagoDawg

      That didn’t come out rigth….meant, fans and TV would rather see an additional SEC matchup vs LSU or ALA or AU rather than getting floaters like LA-Lafayette or Coastal Carolina.

      • Mayor of Dawgtown

        I want UGA to play (in a 12 game regular season) 8 tough games and 4 games against teams that are not tto tough hopefully interspersed throughout the schedule relatively evenly. Now some of those not too tough games can be SEC cupcakes (Vandy, Kentucky, etc.) and a couple can be U.LA.LA types. UGA beats Tech almost all the time but Tech is not a cupcake. Tech usually has a winning season and Tech won the ACC two years ago, then had the title stripped for playing an ineligible player. The reality is that nobody in any conference including the SEC plays a tough game EVERY week. To expect that is to set a team up for epic failure, whatever team that might be. I favor the same schedule model being followed by McGarity for UGA, which also is being done at Bama and Florida.

  3. BulldogBen

    RE: attendance, schedules, cupcakes

    It’ll be interesting to see how the numbers with Hartman play out this year. I’d wager that the powers that be think they are in for a small windfall after a trip to Atlanta. I’m in the 18-49 demographic and for the first time since I’ve had season tickets (1993) I’m considering ordering a la carte instead of season tickets. It’s just not good bang for the buck especially since I’m going to USC and Florida and maybe Auburn.

    I COMPLETELY understand the logic and won’t complain if this type of scheduling results in Championships but the Senator is right in that it’s not exactly endearing to long time season ticket holders. I think we’ll start to see those cupcake games be half full. Particularly later in the season.

    • Puffdawg

      I may have read the email wrong but everybody who contributed is eligible for renewables this season. Cutoff was $100. Maybe they left off a zero or two?

  4. DawgFaithful

    Yeah I read where Emerson wrote that yesterday. I had never thought it that way. Either way, we need to go to 9 conference games. If UGA/Aurburn gets nullified because we added 2 new teams to the conference then thats BS. I didnt even want to add more teams. 12 was perfect. I think we’re headed for disaster folks.

    This is the worst home schedule I have ever seen. Granted we’ll win them all but just awful matchups. I’ll probably go to more road games this year than homers.

  5. When Hartman season ticket request went online for I decided to forgo the season request this year due the home game schedule. I lived 3 hours from UGA and is the verge of just picking and choosing a few games instead.

  6. TJ

    I’m not getting season tickets this year for the first time since I got out of college 8 years ago. That’s not that long, I know, but I just thought I’d share. This home schedule is not worth it and I don’t see it getting any better based on what I’ve heard so far.

  7. stoopnagle

    I have faculty/staff tickets, so it’s still cost-effective for me to get season tickets. If I didn’t have access to f/s tickets, I wouldn’t get them. There’s no way the full price plus donation makes renewable seats worth it unless you’re just making bank.

    I make every home game, but it’s getting harder to justify Coastal Carolina and Idaho State as I get on in age and take on grown-up responsibilities. And ’12 will be my first season with an HDTV sitting in my house in front of my comfy leather recliner.

  8. RocketDawg

    I agonized over sending in my Hartman Fund contribution and waited until the 11th hour on Feb 15 to do so. I won’t be going to any home games this year due to the fact that my son plays football on Saturdays (and quite honestly 5 year old football is pretty entertaining to watch), if they don’t go to 9 conference games next year I may let my tickets go and hit Stub Hub for the games I really want to see.

    McGarity is on to something with his comments about live action vs 60 in HD TV. The lines are shorter for the restroom at my house, I can crank the AC during the early season and heat at the end, and the beer is cheaper. The reasons to not buy season tickets are starting to outweigh the benefits.

  9. Slaw Dawg

    These discussions about playoffs, and the NFL as a model, and dropping time honored games are making me sicker every day.

    The NFL is all about the Super Bowl. College Football should NEVER be all about the National Championship. Each Saturday is, and should always be, an event of its own. Many of those events carry with them an epic, unique history that is woven into the fabric of the greatest sport on Earth. Dedicated sports fans know this. But we have seen the sad spectacle of formerly strong, presumably eternal, threads pulled from this fabric. I bought a ticket (‘twern’t cheap, neither) to watch the Huskers play the Sooners in Norman because, damn man!, that’s some history right there. Now it’s gone. So are Tex/TAMU (after 116 games, played since 1894), KS/MO (after 118 games, and a 1 game edge by the Jayhawks, even bloodier on the court), PSU-Pitt (played 96 times before ending in 2000), and more. Now this sad phenomenon threatens to diminish the SEC.

    When Georgia plays Auburn, 115 years of tradition collide, which fathers and mothers can discuss with sons and daughters, and which sports fans around the country understand and appreciate, just as they do the Cocktail Bowl and “Clean Old Fashioned Hate” (a phrase used just last week to me by a Florida fan in respectful reference to the Dawgs-Jackets century plus war). It doesn’t matter what the W/L record is when the Tide suits up against the Vols or the Barners, doesn’t matter what the bookies say when the Gators and Noles or
    ‘Cocks and Tigers have at it, doesn’t matter whether they’re televised when the Bullies and Rebs start rumbling. Each game has its own weight. It is, therefore, right and proper and completely understandable that these games draw viewers, and that an absolute line be drawn in the sand to protect them.

    Otherwise, we cement the blanding, the genericizing, the de-flavoring of college football. When we codify the concept of 2 “guaranteed games” at the expense of UGA-AU or UGA-GT or even reasonably regular matches with non-division opponents, so that we have a supposedly easier path to a national title appearance, then we have turned the sport into something different. And lesser.

    • Cojones

      I’m with you, Slaw Dawg. One idiot was bragging on here recently that the home easy schedule was what he lived for and such drivel from old farts was passe. To him and some others, the Ws are more important than the game itself. And it gives them another crowbar to pry at the staff if perfection doesn’t happen. That’s what a few desire from this schedule. And I’m afraid that they aren’t Friends of the Program. They have assumed their protective cysts for a while, but look for them to return after Spring, like any good member of Platyhelminthes will do.

  10. reipar

    I am so happy to read about all the people not renewing their season tickets. Last time this happened was the Goff era and I moved from the upper deck to visitor side lower deck in two seasons. Who knows maybe this time I will end up with a side line pass or something.

    Thanks everyone and keep up the good work :)

    • TJ

      And thank you for continuing to fund the program that I love while I go buy a bunch of cool shit with my newfound extra money :)

      • reipar

        Not a problem. As long as you have new cool shit I will keep on enjoying Athens on game day. I think it is a win-win for both of us. I wonder if there is such a thing as seats that are too good?

        Of course God forbid we get another pre-season # 1 ranking in the next couple years and the price of tickets for the two or three games you want to go to shoot through the roof even for bad seats. However, that is the long run and you know what they say about thinking in the long run…it will kill you every time.

        • TJ

          You’ve got it all figured out. Everybody else is stupid.

          So…in paragraph 1, you state that you’ll be enjoying Athens on gameday (and basically that I won’t). Then in paragraph 2, you make the assumption that I’ll still be buying tickets for 2 or 3 games a year. So which one is it?

          And if you don’t realize that buying tickets to the 1 or 2 big games each year is always much less expensive than buying season tickets, even in years where we are #1 and you buy primo seats, then you haven’t been paying attention at all. But I’m pretty sure you realize that and are lying (to either yourself or people on a message board or both) to justify your expenditures.

          But whatever makes you feel better. You’re thinking ahead. No one else is and they are stupid.

  11. BulldogBen

    *golf clap*

    • Cojones

      Oh, No! Now we have a disease for that? Oh..uhh..you meant the gloves worn when not watching football. Sorry.

  12. Drivin and Cryin

    I am not so sure that the SEC “guessed wrong” as much as they proved networks could still rake in money hand over fist with those sorts of rights fees. Remember, the money at the time was considered a paradigm shift – and it was, in more ways than anyone could possible imagine. None for the better, IMO. CFB has become one massive cash grab. Imagine the chaos of someone dropping $100s onto a street corner from a 3rd floor window. That’s CFB right now, flying elbows and all.

    In-game experiences in all sports have become cost-prohibitive when you factor everything into the equation. The return to campus makes college sporting events nostalgiac enough for most consumers to keep the stadiums filled, but the NFL and MLB are now filling their venues with a pretty crude element. College ADs should take note.

  13. Reblogged this on Cus Words and commented:
    Definitely some interesting perspective regarding how the SEC’s expansion could negatively impact the league down the road. I kind of look at this in the same way I view a bigger NCAA basketball tournament. Yes, there would be more games that would bring in more total revenue, but would there be a net gain or even loss in interest if some of the fundamental things changed?

  14. MT

    I’m surprised no one noted this from the TA&M article… FIRST TIME IN SCHOOL HISTORY to sell out all home games in a season? 12th Man, please.

    “Interest is also peaking for the alumni and season ticket packages as A&M sold out each home game of the 2011 season. It was the first time in school history that A&M sold out Kyle Field for each home game in a season.”