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Right now the Southeastern Conference makes around $205 million a year from CBS and ESPN for television rights. Yesterday OKTC told you why the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri was worth over $100 million a year to the SEC when an eventual network emerges. Now let’s talk about why an SEC Network could be worth billions for both the SEC and ESPN. In so doing we’ll include data from the Big Ten Network and cable and satellite subscriber data from the SEC’s own 11 state footprint.
As a preliminary it’s important to note that the Big Ten Network, which launched in August 2007, faced difficulties in ensuring that its network was carried on the basic tier level in its conference footprint.
This issue, which Commissioner Mike Slive discussed with me in a profile I wrote about him in 2010, helped to convince the SEC not to start its own network back in 2009 when the conference entered in to its contracts with ESPN and CBS. At the time the SEC was concerned that battles with cable companies over carrying the network would reflect badly upon the league. But that issue diminished quickly for the Big Ten. According to SNL Kagan estimates by 2008 the Big Ten Network, since rebranded as BTN, was in 38.4 million households with subscriber revenues of $166 million. Just three years later in 2011 BTN was in 48.8 million homes producing subscriber revenue of nearly $246 million.
The average cost for BTN subscribers in 2011 was .37 cents per month.
But this figure is misleading, the vast majority of the revenue comes from states that have Big Ten schools. That is, the overall Big Ten footprint, which now includes Nebraska, charges, per SNL estimates, about .90 cents per month in those states.
Out of market states, those without Big Ten teams, pay less than ten cents per month.
That’s why entering new states is so valuable. Every time a conference colonizes a new state, it’s network revenue potential increases by ten fold.
How does this apply to the SEC?
In adding Texas A&M and Missouri to its conference footprint the number of cable and satellite subscribers in SEC states increased by nearly 50% from a 12 team SEC in 20.8 million cable homes to a 14 team SEC in 30.3 million homes.
Think about this for a minute if you doubt the coming SEC Network, with the addition of just two teams the SEC increased its potential revenue by 50%.
Most commentators focused on “markets.” That’s the wrong metric in a conference network era. You want to focus on footprints, new states mean many more subscriber dollars
Given the rabid nature of SEC fans, the quantity of actual games that fans would want to see, and the fact that the SEC would be in partnership with ESPN, cable operators would be forced to carry this network across the South. In fact, the SEC Network would immediately become the second most popular sports station in most of the South. It’s also important to note that the SEC Network would carry a bevy of football and basketball games since ESPN has rights to virtually every SEC sporting event with the exception of the weekly football game on CBS and some basketball contests. (Every SEC game you see on Fox or Comcast or another regional network ESPN has sold the sub-rights to that network).
Indeed, as we discussed yesterday, pegging the average revenue at $1 a month in the SEC footprint, which is conservative in the long run given that regional sports networks like Comcast SportsNet Washington bring in $3.36 a month, means that the SEC could easily do revenue from this Southern subscriber base of around $360 million a year.
That’s well over double the $150 million it does right now from ESPN. (CBS presently pays $55 million a year to the conference and that number will probably increase to around $70 million a year post-expansion).
That doesn’t include additional revenue streams for subscribers in the rest of the nation — SEC broadcasts were the top three regular season ratings winners in the country this year — where the SEC has turned itself into the second most valuable brand outside of the NFL. It also doesn’t consider how incredibly lucrative advertising sales would be for the network.
Over the next decade of its existing partnership with ESPN the SEC Network could easily climb to $2 a month in the 11 state subscriber base. That’s still just $24 a year, less than half of what many fans pay for a single football game on pay-per-view every year. Indeed, once the SEC rolled back in the third-tier television rights to the network that the schools presently retain each year, you could easily justify $3 a month, or $36 a year in the 11 state SEC footprint.
Once the third-tier rights are rolled back in, SEC fans would get every game all year long in every sport for less than a single pay-per-view game of their favorite school costs right now.
What kind of revenue are we talking about then?
At $2 a month in the SEC footprint, an SEC Network would do $720 million a year.
At $3 a month, still less than Comcast SportsNet Washington and the New England Sports Network presently charge subscribers, the SEC Network would bring in over a billion dollars a year.
Now that money would still have to be divied up with ESPN in some fashion, but we’re talking about an absolutely massive revenue stream that, given the advantages of Southern population growth, would continue to increase each year.
So there a billions reasons why an SEC Network is coming.
And most out there haven’t done the math to think about how lucrative this can be.
OKTC’s special on the future of the SEC started Monday.