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Virginia Tech fans have caught SEC fever.
I can see the early signs, the emails and Twitter messages are flooding in to OKTC, the same kind of early emails that started at Texas A&M and Missouri and slowly swept through the fanbases. Florida State’s flirtation with the Big 12 has shown Virginia Tech fans the light, they want to be in the best conference in America. And now they’re starting to make their voices heard.
One of the most fascinating things about conference expansion has been the extent to which it’s driven from the bottom up as opposed to the top down. These aren’t athletic directors and school presidents sitting on high making a decision about the future of their athletic programs and universities, these are fans, sitting in front of their computers, on Facebook, on Twitter, on talk radio, on message boards, driving up the interest amongst each other until the administration feels compelled to act.
It’s conference realignment revolution.
Missouri fans got their team to the SEC. The administration was blown away by Mizzou’s drive to leave behind the Big 12 and fans wouldn’t take the status quo for an answer.
Ten years ago, before the power of social media to align interests, there’s no way Mizzou would have taken the bold jump into a new Southern frontier.
But times have changed.
Individual fans are empowered in a way they never have been before.
And individual Virginia Tech fans have decided that if Florida State leaves the ACC, the Hokies belong in the SEC.
Especially with the coming SEC Network, which could debut as soon as 2014.
While most still haven’t realized it, an SEC Network was the driving force behind the SEC’s decision to add Texas A&M and Missouri.
A 12 team SEC had 20.8 million cable and satellite subscribers in its 9 state footprint, a 14 team SEC in 11 states has 30.3 million. By adding just two schools in two different states, Texas A&M and Mizzou, the SEC increased its overall cable and satellite subscriber base by nearly 50%.
(Stop right now with your Longhorn Network talk, the SEC Network actually has games that fans will demand to see. How many games? Come 2014, ESPN retains the rights to every SEC game except the game of the week on CBS.
Also, stop with your why not Florida State or Clemson or Georgia Tech talk. The SEC already has those cable and satellite subscribers in its footprint. Having a team in the state, per Big Ten Network stats, increases the payout by ten times what not having a team does.)
So what are the Hokies worth a year to the coming SEC Network?
The state of Virginia has 2.8 million cable and satellite homes.
Figuring an SEC Network price of $1 a month — a very conservative figure — that means that Virginia Tech is worth $33.6 million a year to the league’s television package.
That’s just in television revenue and that’s just right now, at the bargain basement cable and satellite price of $1 a month.
That price is low given what other regional sports networks presently charge. Per SNL Kagan figures Comcast SportsNet Washington brings in nearly $3.36 a month, tops among regional sports networks and New England Sports Network is a close second at $3.35 a month.
If the SEC Network brought in just $2 a month by 2024, a decade after its launch, you’re talking about the state of Virginia being worth $67.2 million a year.
Indeed, the SEC will eventually expand to add teams in North Carolina and Virginia for a simple reason:
It’s the math, stupid.
North Carolina has 3.2 million cable and satellite homes. That means having a team in North Carolina is worth $38.4 million to the SEC Network.
At just $1 a month, a 13 state SEC footprint with 16 teams would bring in $444 million a year.
That’s just off cable subscriber fees in the 13 state footprint.
That doesn’t include any revenue at all from advertising and it doesn’t include any revenue at all for the network in the other 37 states, which would be substantial. You think college football fans in other states might want the SEC Network too?
(The SEC Network will be in partnership with ESPN, but it’s an interesting question to think of how much of this money ESPN would receive. Right now ESPN pays the SEC around $150 million a year for its television rights. The SEC could schedule these payments to diminish each year until ESPN has no actual outlay for the content. That is, eventually ESPN would pay nothing for the content and simply pocket the proceeds via its ownership stake in the channel. So ESPN could take, say 15% of the profits, and actually end up being paid to carry the SEC. That is, ESPN could net around $50 million instead of paying out $150 million, a $200 million improvement.
What’s more, thanks to its ownership stake in the channel, ESPN would be protected from the SEC leaving it behind come 2023-24 when the league’s network rights come up for sale again.
Given that the college football playoff is currently coming up for bid this fall, replacing a fee payment with a profitable ownership stake could free up $200 million in additional cash for ESPN to spend on that playoff rights fee.
Put simply, now is the perfect time for the SEC to be negotiating with ESPN.)
At $444 million in yearly revenue that breaks out to $27.75 million a year per team. (I’m going to assume that the SEC could replace the 15% ESPN receives with at least that figure in yearly advertising and additional revenues from outside states).
So at a bare minimum a school like Virginia Tech would stand to make $10 million more a year in the SEC.
And here’s where the money can really take off.
If cable and satellite subscribers are paying $2 a month in a decade, that’s $888 million, or $55.5 million per school in television money.
Is $3 a month in 15 years out of the question? That’s still less than Comcast SportsNet Washington gets right now.
How much would an SEC Network be worth at $3 a month?
Try $1.3 billion.
That’s over $83 million per team.
But it’s the math, stupid.
And fans aren’t dumb.
They see that their favorite team can make a ton more money and play against the best teams in the country.
It’s a no-brainer, even if the administration hasn’t realized it yet.
Which is why Virginia Tech Hokie fans have caught SEC fever.