The future media landscape for the Power 5 conferences: SEC
It’s good to be king. Just ask the SEC.
Not only is the SEC far and away the best conference for the most lucrative sport, football, its proprietary television network is the envy of every other conference.
The SEC’s dominance in both arenas led to an eye-popping $527 million in revenue during the first year of the SEC Network and College Football Playoff, a 60% increase from the previous year. After expenses, the conference doled out $32.7 million per school, up from $21 million from the previous year.
These astronomical payouts will likely only grow, as the network is new and the conference and schools are still covering sunk startup costs.
Clearly, the SEC Network has been a giant win for the conference, but just a few years ago many people around the country questioned the SEC’s media strategy.
The success of the SEC Network is due to patience and a partnership
Back in 2011, the Pac-12 announced the creation of its own proprietary conference network which seemed destined to be a cash cow for the conference. At the same, the SEC, which was just emerging as the premier football conference, was in the midst of a deal with ESPN and CBS and had no timetable for the creation of its own network. Critics felt that SEC was going to fall behind the Pac-12 as well as the Big Ten, which created its network back in 2007.
Little did anyone know that the SEC was biding its time and learning from the mistakes of the other conferences. The SEC saw how the Pac-12’s self-funded network incurred lots of debt from which it has never really recovered, and how the Big Ten struggled to get its network onto major cable providers.
Armed with this knowledge, the SEC took a different approach, letting ESPN own the SEC Network in exchange for a rights fee based on the channel’s revenue. By relinquishing ownership to ESPN, the SEC was not solely responsible for the initial startup costs and, more importantly, could use the Worldwide Leader in Sports to distribute the network throughout the conference’s geographic footprint. For these reasons, the SEC Network can already be seen by 65 million homes and has quickly become extremely profitable.
The success of the SEC Network has a lot to do with its rabid fanbase, but former commissioner Mike Slive deserves a lot of credit too. He had the patience and foresight to delay the creation of the SEC Network and use ESPN as a conduit to all those football crazy fans in the South.