Thursday, November 23, 2017
Colleges

SEC expansion ultimately boils down to one factor: money

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In the months since the SEC invited Missouri and Texas A&M to join, there have been pep rallies, lots of fanfare and plenty of talk by coaches and administrators about how they will bring not only competitive excellence, but educational excellence.

What's mostly unspoken — publicly at least — is what SEC expansion is really about: money.

That is, extending its brand beyond the eight states it already dominates and, in turn, generating more revenue — particularly through television.

"We feel adding Texas A&M and Missouri has strengthened us in lots of ways," SEC commissioner Mike Slive said. "But it certainly strengthened us in television."

Four years ago, the league entered into a then-groundbreaking 15-year agreement with ESPN worth an average of $150 million annually as well as a deal with CBS that averages $55 million a year.

But since then, the Big Ten has established its own network — the first launched exclusively for one conference — that in 2011 generated $242 million in revenue, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. And the Pac-12 negotiated a 12-year deal with Fox and ESPN for $250 million annually in addition to creating its own network that launches Aug. 15.

Now Slive hopes expansion will allow him to do what he does best: capitalize at the most opportune time.

The SEC's current deals with CBS and ESPN allow talks to be reopened only if the conference expanded.

And with Texas A&M and Missouri bringing in new TV markets — including top-25 ones in Dallas, Houston and St. Louis — negotiations have begun that reportedly include an SEC Network cable channel that could be a reality in as few as two years.

Slive is keeping what's being discussed close to the vest.

"We're talking with our television partners about our television future," he said at the SEC meetings in May. "That's what I'll say for now."

For the SEC schools, much is at stake.

A record $241.5 million was distributed among the 12 schools in May, an average of $20.1 million. That represented a 9.8 percent increase from the $219.9 million in 2010-11. Of that, $116.6 million was derived from football television.

In June, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley told University Athletic Association board members a highly supportive fan base has helped keep the Gators afloat financially during tough economic times but acknowledged other factors have helped.

"We're fortunate to have a lucrative television deal in our league that is extremely beneficial to our members, and that factors into our budget," Foley said. "And we're blessed that it's a deal that's in place for a significant amount of time."

Florida's president, Bernie Machen, has said SEC officials are convinced there is more demand for their product than is currently being met.

While Slive is well aware the negotiating landscape has changed, just how much value has been gained by adding Texas A&M and Missouri remains to be seen.

"We believe there's certainly significant added value for a lot of reasons," Slive said. "Once we complete these negotiations, we'll know (the full impact)."

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]m.

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