The SEC’s New Coke?

Fabulous point from Michael Elkon about the SEC sticking with an eight-game conference schedule after expansion:

… part of the SEC’s success as a TV property is its ability to sell a tribal, feral atmosphere. There is so little that feels authentic or intense about American pro sports, especially in the regular season, so the SEC fills a market niche in that ESPN and CBS can show packed, loud stadia on a weekly basis. One necessary element for that brand is the element that the teams and their fans do not like one another. It is not that hard to convince someone in Seattle or Milwaukee to watch some of Auburn-Georgia when the teams have been playing since 1892 and that history comes through on the screen based on the way that the fans react. When a good number of fans know that they will be sitting at the same Thanksgiving table in a couple weeks with fans of the other program, they tend to care a little more and that comes across on the tube.

This is what Slive and Company risk losing with every game against a wretched Sun Belt team occupying the slot a ninth conference opponent could and should be taking.  They can slap that SEC label on the new product and insist it’s just as good as before, if not better.  But that doesn’t mean we have to buy it.

And if we find our enthusiasm waning, don’t be so sure they’ll know how to fix the situation.  These guys aren’t exactly in Coke’s class when it comes to marketing.  On the other hand, if there’s one thing you can say about the American sports fan, it’s that he/she is both resilient and forgiving.  So maybe it will all work out despite their best intentions.

The thing is, why risk it in the first place?

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UPDATE:  Putting it more baldly, once your fans have seen StubHub, how do you keep ‘em on the season ticket?

I wonder about whether the college football ticket market is a bit of a bubble waiting to pop.  One of the driving forces here is that teams want to keep the right to schedule as many home games against lesser opposition as they can possibly shovel onto the slate.  A nine-game conference schedule would solve the scheduling issue created by SEC expansion, but that would leave one less spot for the New Mexico States and Furmans of the world.  I seriously wonder about Georgia fans who would normally pay thousands of dollars for season tickets looking at their athletic director and saying “you sacrificed the Auburn game, which is often the best game on the home schedule, in order to preserve a glorified scrimmage.  Screw you, I’ll buy tickets to the games that I really want to attend on Stubhub.”  Demand for season tickets looks solid right now, but it would not surprise me in the least to see it soften in the next 5-10 years if the SEC maintains its current course.

You know, Jay Jacobs’ bullshit about having the schedule to compete for a national title is great, but what do you have left if you don’t wind up in the title hunt?  Losing a century-old rivalry to maintain the privilege of playing Directional A&M hardly seems like much of a consolation prize.

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UPDATE #2:  Tyler Dawgden doesn’t think Slive and the schools are much concerned about StubHub.

… What we see as throwing the baby out with the bathwater, Slive and the ADs see as simply cleaning the wash tub out to hold more money. In the end, if the money is right, the stadium is merely a prop for the show happening on the field. The NFL learned that a long time ago (think the 70′s when nearly half of all games were blacked out in home markets, but the national product was sold and broadcast to great success). No one really cares that the Steelers/Bengals game is sold out, at least outside of Southern Ohio/Western Pennsylvania, we just want to see Hines Ward and AJ Green play catch, or Ben Roethlisberger prisonshowered sacked.

And to answer Elkon’s question, I don’t know what it’ll mean to ticket sales over the long term, but it probably won’t matter either way.

Maybe so, but there’s a difference between the SEC and the NFL, at least at present:  the NFL doesn’t have any competitors for its product.  That’s not the case for Mike Slive.  If the SEC transforms itself into a version of the Sun Belt with bigger stadiums, better athletes and higher paid coaches, does the cachet that translates into those TV mega-deals stick, or do consumers of the college football entertainment product look to other conferences for their jollies?  That seems like a dumb choice for the people running the SEC to make, but it wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened.

Of course, if this is simply part of the evolution of D-1 football as a whole into an NFL-style operation, albeit with younger (and cheaper) players and different logos, Tyler is probably spot on with this.  I’ll be long gone, though, before that ever comes to complete fruition.

33 Comments

Filed under SEC Football

33 responses to “The SEC’s New Coke?

  1. JasonC

    I was thinking something quite similar. McGarity said we can’t preserve interconference rivalries or go to a 9-game conference schedule because then it’s too hard or we couldn’t afford to schedule games with Clemson, etc. Well, he better effin’ deliver one of the 3, because if we loose the Auburn rivalry game, don’t play a 9-game conference schedule and don’t get some quality out of conference games (AND potentially lose Tech), just so we can play WTF A&M, Candyass State, Central University of North Texas & Bumblefudge Community College, there are gonna be a lot of pissed off fans… and they should call his butt out for it.

  2. sUGArdaddy

    This has been my point all along. The atmosphere at UGA vs Auburn has a palpable difference than even UGA va Bama. NASCAR made those mistakes when they underestimated the entertainment value that packed stadiums in Rockingham and Darlington have. Hate is fun to watch on tv. The sec should remember that. The simple fact that in ’10 we were a 5-5 team and our game with #1 auburn was one of the top 5 most watched games of the season says it all. You’rs not watching #1 Oklahoma vs 5-5 k-state…because they don’t hate each other. Keep the teams that really don’t like each other playing because it’s quality entertainment.

  3. Always Someone Else's Fault

    The fact remains that a 9th game in this conference is a much bigger deal than other conferences. More revenue lost from that half-home-game a year (because we have bigger stadiums plus a sizable audience that comes to town but watches the game at other locations). Much more competitive risk.

    So, these guys just want to be paid more for it. I think this tells you where the negotiations are starting with ESPN/CBS more than anything else.

    • I hope you’re right. And if so, I hope the SEC doesn’t get its bluff called.

      • Keese

        I predict they will. ESPN has more leverage at this point now the SEC is faced with their choices/schedule post-expansion

        • What, ESPN and CBS are gonna say, no thanks, fellas, we don’t want anymore of your product? Get real. (And even if they did, that would give the conference the chance to either line up another network or start its own to broadcast the additional games.)

          If you don’t think the conference vetted expansion with its broadcast partners before they took steps to add the new schools, you’re being naive.

    • Keese

      Bingo! UGA-AU ain’t going anywhere folks. This is just posturing in a contract negotiation.

      I really doubt they’re as dumb as they appear at times.

      • Why does the SEC need to posture in public? It’s never negotiated with the TV suits that way before. The last contract negotiations, in fact, were quite hush hush until the triumphant details were announced.

        • Keese

          Well guess we’ll just have to wait and see then. This is going to be the largest TV contract to date. While I’m not surprised some of these rivalry issues are being thrown out there…In the end I just don’t see it happening.

  4. Mike

    To your point, without Auburn/Georgia, Tennessee/Alabama and the like, I will watch SEC football a whole lot less.

    That said, I am looking forward to going to college station this fall.

    • HK

      I don’t care about Alabama or Tennessee. But the Alabama Tennessee game? Oh yeah. Alabama Texas A&M or Tennessee Mizzou? Not so much.

      I’ll honestly watch a decent yankee game like Notre Dame Michigan, Ohio State Michigan, USC Notre Dame, Michigan Michigan State, etc. over either of those. And I won’t be alone.

      I sure wish they weren’t dicking us around on a supply and demand chart trying to figure out exactly how much of this shit we’ll take. Part of the glory of SEC football was that the fans got way more than we bargained for.

      It was like a bar where they always poured good stiff drinks, and now that the bar has a good crowd, they’ve put the the single shot auto pour things on all the bottles.

  5. SCDawg

    “There is so little that feels authentic or intense about American pro sports, especially in the regular season, so the SEC fills a market niche in that ESPN and CBS can show packed, loud stadia on a weekly basis.”

    This is what the national playoff proponents are missing. Take away enough of those games and the passion can diminish, and you’re left with something more akin to the NBA regular season. Speaking of the NBA, I know someone had a really good dunk the other night, and have we had the All-Star game yet?

    • HK

      NO! Put every team, EVERY SINGLE FBS AND FCS TEAM name in a big jar, shake it up, draw all the names out and randomly put them into eight conferences, then have a 128 team playoff that starts in october. Thats fair! All rivalries do is make recruits think one school’s more fun to play for than other schools that don’t get to have good rivalries. Its an unfair advantage and its ridiculous! The criminals in charge of these schools have let this go on too long while we just had to take it, and they should all be thrown in jail!

  6. UGLYDAWG

    I work (sometimes) in an elementary school in Coweta County. I looked out the classroom window recently saw bumper tags from UGA, AU, LSU, Ole Miss, and Tennessee. I know Alabama is also represented by a couple of teachers. I don’t see “Missouri” or “A&M” tags anywhere. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one. The only person I know of that’s associated with A&M is Neal Boorz.
    I go to ECHS football games. A couple of gators sit right behind me. UGA and Auburn fans are everywhere, and Ole Miss, Tn and even Vandy are represented in our ranks. On friday nights, we are cordial to one another, but leave seething resentment over one another’s misguided loyalties on the collegiate level. It’s a Southern thing. It’s important. It’s essential to life here in the fall…
    The Southeastern US is the unique and superior culture in America. There is passion here, passion for a lot of things, and passion for SEC football ranks right up there with fried food. I can see A&M eventually fitting into this, if only as an odd sister. Missouri…..? I just don’t know. Does anyone from Missouri live around here? If they do, do they give a hoot about football? Are they going to send thirty five thousand fans if they ever get their shot in the Ga. Dome? Will they tailgate with and understand LSU fans? Will they fist fight with Tennessee fans on the sidewalk after the game? For me, it’s worrisome…And what of A&M when they get their chance in ATL? Don’t their fans stand up for the whole game? What if Bubba is sitting behind them? Will he have to stand up too, just to see?
    I’ve been to Missouri….they’re not really like us. I’ve been to Texas…they pretty much are like us….but they have a lot of wierd game-time follies that manage to overshadow the game…at least they don’t wear the white cowboy hats….I still think A&M might (culturally) fit in, sort of like Vandy or Kentucky manage to do. But Missouri is going to be a misfit. They may actually play some good football, but the fan interaction…the passion of rivalry, of love and hatred won’t be there in the offices and factories and schools and churches across the great Southeast.

    • TimRankine

      Mizzu better prove itself quick to us superior southeasterners.

      • UGLYDAWG

        Analogy…My wife loves Mexican food. I love seafood.
        She has a resturant that she considers “superior”, and for a place to get Mexican food, it probably is, but I’m never enthusiastic about eating there.
        I love seafood..(same scenario in reverse).
        I’m hoping her resturant will make happy and put a big marlin up on the wall and serve fried grouper and grits, but I’m not holding my breath.
        Georgia/ Florida is grouper and grits at Mudcat Charley’s in Darien….Missouri/Florida is grouper and grits at Taco Max in…say…West St. Louis.
        There’s nothing wrong with the product, it’s just being served in a strange context. It may be hard to build the same level of excitement for it, especially at first.

    • Dante

      You’re surprised that in the easternmost reaches of the SEC you don’t see car tags for the westernmost teams? Go to Louisiana or Arkansas and you’ll see plenty of A&M fans.

      • Cojones

        And only a paucity of UGA tags.

      • UGLYDAWG

        Not suprised. It’s reality. But I’ve seen UGA stuff all over the world…literally! I think it makes the point that SEC fans are so passionate about SEC football that they buy more stuff and it naturally ends up more places. I agree A&M fans are many and passionate, but it will take a long time to build up intense rivalries, esp. with the east.
        Really (not that I’m hoping for it), a great scenario for both of these new SEC teams would be to come in and whoop ass on everyone, thus creating immediate passion and intrest in their being in the league. That would cause immediate acceptance and rivalry. It would actually be painfully good for the conference. And who knows…it may happen on some scale.

  7. The other Doug

    Your point about Stub Hub is dead on.

  8. Go Dawgs!

    The StubHub comment is a very good point. I attended every game home and away this season, and to be perfectly honest, it was a struggle to drag my ass to Athens for the New Mexico State game a week after beating Florida. It’s not exciting to go to the games against Buffalo, FAU, Louisiana-Monroe, etc. I’m not excited about Georgia Southern, either, but at least I know people who went there. The fact that nearly all the schools in our conference can take attendance more or less for granted plays into the fact that they don’t have to schedule a better product to get butts in the seats.

    Go ahead and imagine that home schedule in the odd years, though, without Auburn: South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri, Rotating SECW team (like Miss State!) Cupcake, Cupcake, Cupcake Wow. Fun year between the hedges. We mix it up with South Carolina, but other than that, no matchup with any real “rivalry” behind it. I still don’t consider the Gamecocks to be a rival in the truest sense, anyway, though I do look forward to that game this year.

    • Go Dawgs!

      You know what the worst part of losing the Auburn-Georgia rivalry would be? The thought of losing that game and then having to just deal with it for six years.

  9. paul

    I have to admit, I am looking at the way things are shaping up, contemplating our absolutely wretched home schedule next year and thinking I will probably let me tickets go. For far less than the Hartman Fund contribution, I can get tickets to the games I actually want to see. So I am living proof of the mans point.

  10. DawgPhan

    So I must be the only person looking to add a season ticket this year. Hoping to get to 4 tickets this year, from 3 the last couple of years. Stub Hub be damned, but glad it was there was my SEC title game ticket.

  11. Beer Money

    Interesting timing that they aren’t going to figure anything out until well after Hartman Fund donations are due. I know it doesn’t affect this year’s schedule, but if they decide to bail on the quality SEC content, watch the funding dwindle rapidly.

  12. Slaw Dawg

    Senator: keep up the reporting and the good fight on this.

    Wouldn’t it be great if a hard core of Dawg fans could settle on a clear, simple proposition: 9 SEC Games yearly, keep the AU rivalry and constantly, repeatedly, batter the Athletic Dept, Athletic Assn’ and Slive’s office with that position? With respect to the great guys at Dawg Sports, Colonel King’s “8 games so we can sometimes play Clemson” position is likely to lead us to “8 games so we can sometimes play Clemson and sometimes play Auburn.” Such a position amounts to mush. Would I give up the chance to play Ok State, Oh State, Boise or even Clemson every so often in order to keep UGA-AU? Damn right! But that’s not really the choice. The choice is really between Cupcake U and one of those other schools. Who needs it? One Cupcake U a year is enough!

    Perhaps your blog is a place those of us who are adamantly FOR a real SEC schedule can use as a single minded rallying point. Sign me up!

    • DawgPhan

      I dont think that this is the rallying point you are looking for.

      • Cojones

        As I recall, DawgPhan, you were totally against the 9-game SEC schedule and said you wanted all those cupcakes because you worshiped the “W”s. Weren’t you touting all those injuries we would have if we played a decent competitive schedule?

        I would think that this is a perfect rallying point for many fans who think for themselves consistently and don’t give a hoot about the “We will dominate U” games that you seem to be proud of when hoisting a piece of glass.

        • DawgPhan

          I never talked about the injuries…not my style. If we can dump Tech and get the UF game as a home and home then sure, 9 games it is.

          I just want the Auburn game every year and as many cupcakes as we can get. If we never play clemson again, that doesnt bother me in the least. With a 9 game schedule I would never want to see UGA playing in the kick off game against anyone but direction U.

          9 SEC games, tech, and WLOCP leave too few scheduling options for my taste.

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