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Should the New CBS Deal Disappoint You?

Probably not, but let's go over it anyway.


Jeremy Fowler of reported yesterday that the value of the SEC's contract with CBS will remain the same at $55 million per year. After the year and a half of anticipation of the potential windfall that SEC expansion could bring, should that figure disappoint you?

First things first. As a fan, absolutely not. The best SEC game of the week (plus two doubleheaders) will be on national broadcast TV. No matter where you might be in these United States, you'll get to see it if you're near any functioning television. It's good for you, the viewer, and it's good for schools in terms of reach. The SEC's contract with CBS is a good thing for the conference, and the fact that it's continuing is all you really should be concerned about. It's not up to you to balance the books at your favorite school.

Second, the benefits of SEC expansion really don't apply to the CBS deal. What's the thing we always hear about conference expansion? It's to bring new TV markets into conferences. Well, that doesn't apply to CBS. It's already in every TV household in the country, and CBS doesn't do regional coverage. But, you say, did the large states of Texas and Missouri make a difference in overall viewership? Well, no. The SEC on CBS package averaged a 4.2 rating in 2011; it averaged a 3.9 rating in 2012. Whatever boost those states brought was overwhelmed by a rash of blowouts. The SEC on CBS was still the highest rated college football package in the country, so it's very valuable, but we have a large country. A decent number of folks in Texas and Missouri were probably already watching the SEC Game of the Week anyway.

Third, it's true that the SEC will be getting less per school per year from CBS. However, it will be getting the same amount per game. In most years CBS gets 15 games, while some (like this fall) have an extra week and give the network 16 games. Members of the 12-team SEC got an average of $4.6 million per year from CBS; members of the 14-team SEC will get an average of $3.9 million per year. However the conference is still getting the same $3.4 or $3.6 million per game, depending on the length of the season.

While I'm glad Texas A&M and Missouri have joined us here in the SEC, I don't think they did anything to raise the value of the SEC Game of the Week. That bar has been set by the league's traditional powers of Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, and Tennessee. I don't think A&M or Mizzou have a higher profile than those schools, so the value of the SEC Game of the Week did not go up due to expansion.

It might have gone up due to the general appreciation of college football rights that we've seen in the past few years, though, with conference after conference getting larger contracts. It would appear on the surface that this new contract indicates that it hasn't gone up at all since the parties signed their previous contract in 2008. That surface impression is not exactly correct.

CBS is paying the same money for less because it's losing its exclusivity window. The SEC Network will begin running a conference game against CBS's games in 2014. It's not that the value of the best SEC game of the week has not appreciated in value since the parties signed their 2008 contracts. It's that the value has gone up approximately by the amount that the exclusivity window is worth.

I am not a media consultant, and I have never worked in TV. I cannot tell you how much that window is worth. It can't be worth nothing, though, because CBS wouldn't have demanded it before if it had no value.

The SEC contract with CBS is unique among college football rights deals. CBS is a national broadcast network that doesn't do regional coverage, and it only broadcasts a small number of games per year. It doesn't work exactly how other deals do. You should feel however you want about it, but I don't think too much disappointment is called for here.