When Greg Sankey was named SEC Commissioner in 2015 he immediately began to ponder the conference’s next media rights deal.
ESPN has controlled the vast majority of rights to the SEC through 2034. But the fate of the SEC on CBS package, long considered the crown jewel of college football, has been a sticking point of intense speculation in the TV sports industry.
For years CBS has benefited from one of the best deals in sports TV, paying a minuscule $55 million annually to get the SEC’s top game weekly and the SEC Championship game.
Following the death of long-trusted TV advisor Chuck Gerber, that same year, Sankey said he wanted to take his time and do his due diligence.
In 2018 the SEC hired Alan Gold of Evolution Media and the CAA’s Nick Khan to guide the conference into the future media landscape. While consulting trusted SEC deputies Charlie Hussey and Mark Womack as the senior SEC leadership weighed all options on the table. After years of contemplating, Sankey and the SEC came to the conclusion it was time to go all-in with ESPN.
The deal was announced on Thursday but agreed to over a year ago. CFB’s premier package is leaving CBS for ESPN beginning in 2024-25.
Although exact terms of the deal were not released, it’s rumored to be in the $300 million range annually. A massive increase from the $55 million being received from CBS. A vitale piece of the deal is having a weekly SEC game on ABC, which gives the league a much-desired national platform once it leaves CBS.
The real kicker in this part of the deal is it will still get the kickoff in the afternoon time slot like on CBS but with ABC it can become the marquee matchup for ABC’s Saturday Night Football. This strategy will allow the biggest games to be broadcast in the biggest places in front of the most people, ESPN Vice President of Programming and Scheduling Burke Magnus said”.
Magnus and those at ESPN have long eyed the top SEC package for years, waiting for the opportunity to pitch their plan to the conference. Per sources, it’s long been said those at ESPN prioritized landing the entire SEC package.
With the support from his boss and ESPN president Jimmy Piatro, and the big boss former Disney CEO Bob Iger, Magnus was told he could go and pursue a deal. That set the table for when Sankey and the conference were ready to begin communication on the deal.
The cash component of the deal while rather eye-popping, wasn’t the only part that swayed the SEC into an agreement. A huge selling point was the scheduling flexibility that the conference would now receive with a single partner instead of multiple partners. Another advantage in having a single partner is the ability to pick your games in advance and not having to wait on CBS to pick its weekly game first.
Beginning next year as part of the agreement ESPN+ can also air one non-conference game and up to two non-conference basketball games per season. The ability to keep a traditional broadcast spot plus have the added flexibility that comes from ESPN, the SEC Network, and ESPN+ was too good for the SEC to overlook. Sankey said all of this was a huge component in signing with the Disney brand (ABC and ESPN).
Many believed that ESPN would try to buyout CBS to gain earlier access to the whole package, but no discussion’s occurred. Nothing has happened to suggest that the deal would go into effect earlier than 2024. ESPN has mentioned there’s definitely interest in doing so but that’s out of their control.
Once the deal begins it’ll be a huge boost for all 14 schools in the SEC. Last fiscal year each SEC school received more than $45 million, which should immediately balloon to at least $60 million annually under the terms of this new deal.
For ESPN it will finally get the opportunity it’s been craving which is the right to air the “Iron Bowl” (Alabama – Auburn) and “The Worlds Biggest Outdoor Cocktail Party” (Florida – Georgia). CBS has traditionally aired these games for the last two-plus decades.