SEC revenue set to jump 50% with playoff, new TV deals
Steve Berkowitz USA TODAY
Already home to many of the nation's best-financed college athletics programs, the Southeastern Conference is about two years from distributing at least $10 million -- and perhaps as much as $14 million -- more per school than it did during the 2011-12 fiscal year, a USA TODAY Sports analysis projects.
This would represent at least a 50% increase in the SEC's per-school take, which could get close to $34 million in 2014-15 and for a few years exceed the revenue each of the Big Ten Conference schools get from their shares of conference and NCAA revenues. In part because of the Big Ten Network's success, most Big Ten schools recently have been receiving $1 million to $4 million more per year than SEC schools – roughly $23 million to $25 million apiece.
However, because of a pending re-configuration of the SEC's television arrangements and a major increase in postseason football payouts that will occur when the Bowl Championship Series is replaced by a four-team playoff in the 2014-15 season, SEC revenue is about to escalate dramatically.
The SEC has been renegotiating its long-term rights deals with ESPN and CBS to take into consideration the conference's recent additions of Missouri and Texas A&M. When those deals began in with the 2009-10 school year, they were worth $3 billion over 15 years (with the conference having grown to 14 schools, that now works out to an annual average of $14.3 million per school).
In an interview with USA TODAY Sports in mid-December, SEC commissioner Mike Slive all but said one outcome will be the formation of the conference's own network. "Given the networks that have been developed, is there room for any more?" Slive asked. "And the answer is: 'At least one.' "
The additional revenue will further separate the SEC schools from others in terms of overall revenue and expense, including the compensation paid to football coaches. In turn, this seems likely to increase the pressure on other schools to keep up.
According to data compiled by USA TODAY Sports:
--During the 2012 football season, the SEC had four of the eight highest-paid head coaches, four of the six highest-paid assistants and five of the 15 highest-paid assistant-coaching staffs.
--In terms of overall revenue and expense, the SEC had nine of the 19 highest-revenue athletics programs in 2010-11, the most recent year for which national figures are available (and Texas A&M, which was not yet in the SEC was 15th). It also had nine of the 20 highest-spending programs.
Assuming the conference maintains its current lineup of 14 members, the combination of new deals with ESPN and CBS, along with the formation of a 100% SEC-owned network, would bring the SEC schools nearly $23 million apiece in 2014-15, according to an estimate prepared for USA TODAY Sports by a college sports rights-valuation firm. The SEC's postseason football revenues with the playoff, combined with money the conference is likely to get from its men's basketball tournament and from the NCAA, would provide at least another $11 million, according to past SEC revenue-distribution announcements, NCAA revenue-distribution reports and financial documents and a person with direct knowledge of the playoff's revenue distribution plan.
The person who provided the playoff revenue details to USA TODAY Sports, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. The SEC TV revenue estimate comes from Navigate Research, a Chicago-based firm that is not currently working with the SEC but has done multimedia rights valuations for schools in various power conferences; the estimate is based on 15-year rights deals with ESPN and CBS that would be worth an annual average of $25 million per school (a total of $5.25 billion) and an SEC Network that while 100% conference-owned, like the Pacific-12's new network, primarily would have only one channel, like the Big Ten's.
A potentially significant variable in the SEC's per-school payouts is the amount of money that could be required for the start-up of a network and/or the amount of money the conference office needs to keep for operations.
SEC spokesman Craig Pinkerton said in an e-mail the conference "will hold with our policy of not discussing financial matters other than the end of the year distribution release that we send out," a release usually made in conjunction with the SEC's annual spring meeting in late May or early June.