Having had some time to think about this possible Florida State-to-SEC situation, the old legal pad pros and cons list on each side would be filled to the brim with points for and against. The business and financial aspect is the most important which I will lightly break down here, saving the competition aspects for others. I am by no means a television insider, I work for a major network and that’s about it. I worry about what affects me, the packages we have, the more possibilities of games I could work. Honestly, my idea of sports news is the sports finance and business journals. Basically, my point is, I could not name the quarterback and head coach of two-thirds of the teams in the ACC and I would not in any way be qualified to comment on the competition side of the possible deal. All things considered, I lean somewhat against the SEC move.
Here are the basic points as I see it:
Not denying that the money is important, and the SEC brings more than the ACC. But how much? Enough to make it worthwhile? Probably not.
Much is made of the lucrative deals the SEC has with ESPN and ABC. Hardcores will tell you that the SEC is the conference receiving the most money to show their games, and that as dominant as the SEC is in football right now, it will be even more so once they cash in their huge awesome paychecks for a decade or two. The facts are that the SEC is not the most expensive deal out there, they are actually ranked third. The SEC receives $150 million per year from ESPN and ABC with an additional $55 million from CBS. That is eclipsed (rather easily) by the new deal for the Pac-12 with the Disney group, coming in at $250 million annually. The most lucrative? The $252 million per year going into the much-derided Big Ten, with the Big Ten Network paying out $232 million and CBS another $20 million. Our current deal with the ACC is one that nets $155 million per year. The majority of these conference deals expire between 2022 and 2025, meaning these numbers are the same for a while. The ACC deal is 85 percent of the amount of the SEC’s, but nobody would say that ACC competition is 85 percent as strong, entertaining, or worthwhile as the SEC. Why is that the case?
The name of the game is the television markets you bring in. Strong competition helps, but it is not everything. Not even close.
The SEC television markets are not markets to be impressed over. Florida, Baton Rouge/New Orleans, Atlanta, Nashville, Memphis … and that’s about it. As we know, the ACC can bring in Miami, Atlanta, Charlotte, Washington, and Boston, and that’s before you work harder to find the secondaries. There is your answer as to why the ACC got as much money as they did — ESPN knew that they had these markets on lockdown, and that’s why they spent so much to keep FOX out of the fold.
If Florida State jumps, they need to make sure that they get a full-share of the rights fees.
Right now, the ACC deal averages $11.1 million annually for the 12 schools. With the deals not changing until at earliest 2023, a 14-team SEC would net $14.6 million per school. The SEC would also not really be out of line to tell Florida State and Texas A&M essentially to head to the back of the line until the SEC deal expires — you were not with us in 2008 when we signed this deal, you do not get full status and full shares in it until we sign a deal that you are included in. That would not be until 2024. Also, an 11-team ACC with the current deal brings in $14.1 million. The numbers are an advantage, but they are not as impressive as one would believe at the outset. Leading us to one of the things I really despise about the SEC:
The SEC fosters a win-now, right-this-second mentality. I mean, seriously, like why haven’t you won yet?
A good portion of my college basketball work, now living in metro Washington D.C., comes on the Big East Network. It really is similar to the old Raycom/Jefferson-Pilot outfit, only it falls under the ESPN umbrella. Essentially, it shows a lot of Big East basketball that is not good enough for the major ESPN networks. When I lived in Tallahassee, I was sent to Tampa eight times for USF games; now, it is a lot of Pittsburgh non-conference stuff, lower-level Georgetown and Pitt games that as we say in trucks and meetings are “Non 1-2-U”. If you have ever seen a game, it looks just like ESPN, graphics, branding, elements, only on the bug, there’s a Big East Network logo instead. All signs point to the fact that these games are so low that they are only on in the cities of the teams involved, especially the epic Battle for 14th Place USF vs. Rutgers games I’ve done, but the exact opposite is true. Take, for example, the January 15 game I did, when Pittsburgh hosted Seton Hall. It was a Big East Network game, and it was on basic cable in Pittsburgh, New York City, Washington, Baltimore, Tampa/St. Pete, Orlando, Daytona Beach, Melbourne, Hartford, San Antonio, Austin, New Orleans, Providence, ESPN3.com, and if you had the satellite package, ESPN Full Court. These lower level games have a phenomenal amount of carriage. The point of that?
TV eyeballs are what matters, for recruiting, for money, for everything.
Sure, the SEC brings us more opportunities to be on ESPN national stuff, but what of the games that are lesser? Who is going to show a Florida State / Vanderbilt basketball game or a Florida State / Kentucky football game? ESPN has to in their deal, but they are going to be lower on the priority against the A-list SEC schools. That means smaller regional outfits, and they are not going to be on in anywhere near as many places as a lower level ACC game is for us now, and even worse because simply put, the SEC is not able to have as many markets. Would we benefit from losing our games on the entire East Coast? ‘Aired in SEC Markets Only’ means you will be okay in the conference footprint, but we want to be national like we were in the 1990s. What of those of us who no longer live in the Southeast? Time to get the satellite package for half our season. And God forbid if we struggle out of the gate – basically, if you thought we were hard to find on TV in 2006-2008, wait until a few bad years in the SEC takes over. Think about the last time you saw Tennessee or pre-Cam Newton Auburn on CBS and ESPN primetime repeatedly. It happens that fast if you can’t win right this second in the SEC. Further, do you think that current SEC schools will be cool with Florida State waltzing in and taking CBS and ESPN prime appearances from the teams that are getting it now? Limits and caps on Florida State games getting the A-list treatment are not an impossibility until 2024 when we would be a part of new deal negotiation.
A big deal is made of 5 SEC football championships in a row.
And rightfully so, it’s an impressive streak. It’s annoying when SEC fans of other schools root for their adversaries in January, and then claim to have the nastiest, dirtiest rivalries ever the other 364 days out of the year, but hey, that’s their thing. What if this is just a cycle of dominance? Prior to this five in a row clip, you have to go back to 1980 to find that many SEC championships. (1980 Georgia, 1992 Alabama, 1996 Florida, 1998 Tennessee, 2003 LSU) The reason? That really was when the SEC was a fantastic conference and the teams really did beat up on each other. Since the SEC has fallen off, the East especially, the door has been opened for a long run of SEC titles. If you are elite of the elite in the SEC, you win titles. If you aren’t elite, welcome to the Outback Bowl.
The bottom line.
Here is the disclaimer that this is all speculation, and things we can’t know for sure until we’re there. As a worst case scenario: Florida State fans are going to be hating life if they struggle a little in a new SEC, limping after 9-3 and 10-2 seasons into Capital One Bowls and Outback Bowls, especially if they have to look over and see something crazy like Virginia Tech winning eight of ten ACC titles or something ridiculous and stupid like NC State or Clemson in the Orange Bowl; if they can’t find the Florida State vs. Mississippi game on something that is a channel normal people get; and if the current SEC schools play little brother with them more than the ACC does now where we are the big fish — a few years of little fish big pond and that decision may be one to be regretted. I will leave the final decision up to those in power that know a lot more than I do, but the move is something that really needs to be thought over long and hard. It could be great, or it could be a colossal disaster. I trust that athletic director Randy Spetman and the powers in charge are smart, I truly believe Mr. Spetman is one of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever had the chance to talk to and work for, and that whichever road he leads us down will be the better direction. Personally, I just believe that while the grass may be a little greener, as much as we don’t feel like it’s the case, our grass is plenty green right now.