Daily Archives: June 1, 2014

SEC SIDs preseason picks

On the surface, nothing really shocking:  Alabama to win the West and South Carolina to win the East… Georgia second in the East.

But beneath that surface, note that there isn’t a single Gamecock on defense who makes first or second team SEC.  (Even Georgia has one.)  With Shaw and Clowney both gone, and South Carolina going to a 3-4 because of a lack of depth on the d-line, that’s an interesting call.

It sounds like both teams are perceived as being flawed.  But let’s remember that Georgia and South Carolina are widely perceived as being top ten preseason teams.  So one of these narratives is likely to give as the season progresses.

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Filed under SEC Football

“At some point, you hit a ceiling and you can’t keep doing it.”

Giddy.  That’s what the SEC is today over the announcement that it’s distributing a record-high average payout of $20.9 million per school in 2013-14.  The conference members aren’t just fist pumping over revenues almost doubling in a five-year span; it’s what they think is coming down the turnpike that’s really got them excited.

… The SEC’s payouts are expected to eventually increase more after the launch of the SEC Network, which wouldn’t have occurred without the SEC expanding.

The amount of new revenue is dependent upon distribution of the network, which launches Aug. 14. ESPN and SEC officials say they are optimistic the network will have full distribution. DISH and AT&T U-Verse have signed agreements.

“We’re not concerned at this point,” said Justin Connolly, ESPN senior vice president for college networks programming. “If you look back, not just with conference networks but networks as a whole, often times distribution holes are filled toward the end.”

But what if they’re wrong about that?

But come Aug. 14, if DirecTV and Comcast have not signed on to carry the Southeastern Conference’s new regional sports network because of the cost of the programming, the fans of Bulldogs, Tigers, Gators and the rest will not be happy. The fans will lose restraint and demands will become actions: They just might cancel their service.

Meanwhile, the roughly 70% of TV viewers inside the SEC’s 11-state footprint who do not care much about college sports are on the verge of seeing their bills rise again, because of the SEC Network. There will be nothing they can do about it except drop their service. If enough SEC fans threaten, or actually cancel, Comcast and DirecTV, it might force the providers to carry the SEC Network, pay the carriage fee and pass the cost on to its customers. All of them.

It is the latest dust-up between regional sports networks and cable, satellite and telecommunications TV carriers, and follows controversies in Houston and Los Angeles. The Comcast regional sports affiliate in Houston was driven into bankruptcy court. DirecTV is balking at the asking price per subscriber for the Dodgers, which has left millions in the Los Angeles area without TV access to the baseball team.

Sports programming is the biggest reason TV bills have been rising nationally as professional leagues and major college conferences continue to pay higher and higher salaries to coaches, players and executives and improve their stadium infrastructures.

There’s a saturation point, even in a region that’s as crazy about college football as the South is.  Like it or not, we’re still a minority when it comes to the viewing audience, and you have to wonder how long those who aren’t fans are going to subsidize our passion.  And don’t think the delivery people aren’t watching that closely.  It’s their livelihood, after all.

DirecTV CEO Mike White once told Wall Street analysts on a conference call, according to Bloomberg, “If I could wave a wand, the first thing I would peel off is regional sports networks. The cost is just too high.”

John Demming, a Comcast spokesman, would not comment on price other than to say Comcast was in negotiations with the SEC Network. “We’re very optimistic we are going to have an agreement,” Demming said.

Dan York, chief content officer for DirecTV, would not comment on the exact cost of carrying the SEC Network.

“We would certainly wish to carry the SEC Network sooner than later. Timing will depend on at what point do we feel we are getting a fair value proposition from Disney/ESPN to make it available,” York said.

York, however, also said, “As popular as sports content is, the vast majority of consumers will not watch any national, regional or local sports network, yet the networks demand they pay a tax so that those who do want to watch it get access to it.”

So again, what if ESPN is wrong about the business model?

David Preschlack, head of affiliate sales for ESPN and Disney media networks, said the SEC Network is not a regional sports network but a brand strong enough to sell outside the South. Asked if that meant DirecTV, Comcast and DISH would be able to charge an “inner market” price around the country to all of their subscribers, Preschlack would not comment.

The SEC Network will not be available on pay-per-view or on a sports tier but will be sold as part of a provider’s wide package of programming. Preschlack said, “The economics of the pay-per-view model just don’t support the business we’re looking to get into, which is the same for any other programming ESPN owns.”

At a buck-thirty a head in the regional market, that’s a pretty steep tariff to ask everyone to pay (especially for this) for a general programming package.  What happens if the screaming of the 70% gets loud enough? Either the carriers do something, or the politicians make them do something.

“I got a call the other day from a staff person in Congress, and the House is going to look into this stuff. As reluctant as the U.S. Congress is to regulate in this day and age, it seems like this situation is inviting some regulation. It’s not good for the consumers. These sports leagues have a lot of market power.”

A la carte packaging, where the cost of the SEC Network jumps five- or six-fold, would be problematic for Slive and his presidents, to say the least, because the size of the paying audience drops dramatically.  (And just think what that would mean for the Pac-12, which owns its network outright.)  There would be a struggle to figure out a way to justify that sort of cost.  Better games?  More conference expansion?  Those aren’t easy calls to make, as we’ve seen over the past couple of years.  In the meantime, what can they do?  ESPN and the market tell them the marketing strategy works.

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Filed under It's Just Bidness, Political Wankery, SEC Football

‘Yeah, we have to look at this kid’s highlight tape again.’

I have to admit that the member of Georgia’s class of 2014 I’m most excited at seeing is Isaiah McKenzie.  Oh, sure, he’s not the physical freak Nick Chubb appears to be and he’s not the combination of size and speed (or the rapper) that his high school teammate Sony Michel is, but he’s fast enough to warrant consideration to play receiver even though he’s only 5’7″ by his own admission.

That’s not his main selling point for me, though.  This is:

“His ability to return kicks and punts is what attracted me the most to him,” Richt said. “I wanted to (offer him) sooner than I did. But we had numbers issues and you kind of had to play the game and see if something broke free. When it looked like we were going to be OK to have a number to give, I couldn’t wait to offer him.”

Thus a Signing Day surprise was born. With Michel a long-time UGA commit, Georgia offered McKenzie the Friday before Signing Day. He said he made his decision the following Monday to attend Georgia, his surprise pick out of nowhere over contenders like Ole Miss and Virginia Tech, which he’d just visited the weekend before Signing Day.

And don’t think McKenzie doesn’t know the opportunity he’s got in front of him.

Last season Georgia ranked 122 out of 123 FBS teams in punt returns (and 108th in kickoff returns), and Richt has been hinting strongly that McKenzie might be tapped to try to change that in 2014.

“I’m just going to take it and run with it and get myself on the field as fast as possible,” McKenzie said. “I’ve heard they need some help with special teams. Special teams have been a bit shaky the past few years. So I just want to come in and bring that special teams back up.”

When’s the last time Georgia had somebody who legitimately put the fear of God in opponents’ coverage teams?  So, yeah, I’m more than intrigued at the possibility this kid represents.  And I’m not the only one.

Richt says, “I’m excited about the kid.”

“He’s fast, quick, and he’s got an air about him. He’s got some confidence coming in,” Richt said.

Yeah, but can he make you share that confidence, Coach?  Is he somebody you can send in to field a punt at the ten yard line?  Here’s hoping he can be that guy.

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UPDATE:  Speaking of highlight tape…

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Filed under Georgia Football

Sunday morning buffet

There’s always something to fill the chafing dishes.

  • Mark Richt thinks Malcolm Mitchell is growing up.
  • The Notre Dame bloggers are really getting into Brian VanGorder‘s tactics.
  • Has QB guru George Whitfield, Jr. fudged his résumé?  And if so, will anyone care?
  • If you wonder why the Big Five don’t just take their footballs home and start a new organization outside of the NCAA, Andy Staples offers one good reason:  “The cynical among us might also mention they like being tax-exempt; an organization made up solely of those five conferences might not be.”
  • Behold the awesomeness that is the early schedule of the SEC Network.  Gotta have it!
  • Tennessee sure is going through walk-ons like it’s nobody’s business.
  • Does one of the proposals adopted this week in Destin mean what I think it means? “Increase bowl revenue distribution in football and require all teams to be financially responsible for all guaranteed ticket purchases” sounds like the conference won’t be pitching in to cover expense shortages due to unsold tickets any more.  Of course the SEC is stepping in on the front end to limit the size of those packages, but in an age when the bowls are being told to pick for rankings over commercial popularity, that’s a change that could bear watching.
  • Mark Richt likes Mike Bobo a lot more as a coach than he did as a recruit.

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Filed under Because Nothing Sucks Like A Big Orange, Georgia Football, It's All Just Made Up And Flagellant, SEC Football, Strategery And Mechanics, The NCAA