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.