There are plenty of reasons that justify it, but here’s what I suspect will be the most compelling, if not today, then soon.
SEC attendance is down 1.3 percent since the league set a national record in 2008. That figure is tickets sold, not the head count of those actually in the seats. Just because a game is listed as a sellout doesn’t mean every seat or parking space or concession-line spot is filled.
Television is the main reason. There are more televised games and more choices than ever before. The TVs themselves are bigger and better, with superior picture quality and theater-level sound.
Not everyone will actually show up to watch State U. play Directional Tech when fans can sit in the comfort of their living room, eat a hamburger that costs less than $8 and have the option of checking in on better games around the dial.
Moreover, while crowd figures are creeping downward, the price of so-called “guarantee” games continues up. Once upon a time, a couple of hundred thousand dollars enticed an outmanned marshmallow into an expected beating. That figure now bumps up against seven figures.
Non-BCS leagues know they have the BCS schools over a barrel when it comes to non-return games and they are using the leverage to their monetary advantage.
The math ain’t happy. And the trends aren’t positive – just ask Georgia’s ticket office, which is still offering single game tickets to three games and season tickets to the weakest home schedule in a very long time. A ninth SEC game addresses a lot of that.
A nine-game SEC football schedule would cut down on those problems. League games are better attended than the normal non-conference bores. Plus, members don’t have to pay other members to visit campus. It’s in the bylaws.
Two more benefits: one, by reducing demand, the addition of a ninth conference game also reduces the cost of inviting a cupcake opponent, and, two, it’s more inventory for the TV networks to pay for. At some point, the Greg McGaritys of the conference are going to realize that the cost benefit analysis of a seven-game home schedule like this year’s show that it’s not worth it. As to when that occurs, that depends on how stubborn these guys are about defending their position.
Okay, that’s the money side. Here’s the fan side, from a LSU blogger who does the math to find that Miles’ whining about the cross-division lock-ins is misplaced. (Today must be LSU Bloggers Call Out Les Miles For Being A Weenie Day.)
Tying this all together one thing jumps out at me, 17 of the 20 SEC championship during this time has been won by teams inside the top five of the schedule. This tells me that the schedule is a lot more balanced than I would have believed prior to researching.
The reason for the balanced numbers is that teams evolve. No team during this stretch has sustained a high level of success allowing teams to move up and down in the rankings.
Would I like to see the conference drop the lock-in game, absolutely, but only because I want to see LSU play all the teams on a consistent basis. I love when LSU plays Georgia and Tennessee, but why should I have to wait four years to see this happen?
The simple answer is, you shouldn’t. Just like I shouldn’t have to wait over a decade to plan a trip to LSU. And with a nine-game conference schedule, we wouldn’t have to, would we?