Why should the SEC care if the Big Ten expands? It’s a reasonable question and I get it a lot.
Obviously, the SEC has a great thing going with four straight national championships in football. The league has 14 years remaining on a $3 billion TV contract with CBS and ESPN. The SEC has sold out football stadiums from Athens to Tuscaloosa and competes on a national level in every sport it sponsors. Life is good.
So why mess with a great thing? Why not let the Big Ten do its thing while the SEC keeps doing what has made it so successful?
Here’s why: “If you are a commissioner your No. 1 job is not to take care of today,” said former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer. “Your No. 1 job is to look at least 10 years down the road to where your conference is going to be and where the competition is going to be.”
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive told me recently that the his conference will have a plan in place should the Big Ten expand to 16 teams, which could totally change the landscape of college athletics as we know it in just a few years. The SEC may never execute the plan, but there will be a plan.
The SEC cannot rest on its laurels because they have seen the numbers that I am about to share with you. These come from some very good reporting by Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune.
Right now it is a given that from its various shared revenue sources (TV, bowls, NCAA basketball tournament, etc.) the Big Ten pays each of its schools about $22 million per year while the SEC’s numbers are somewhere around $17 million per school. But:
**–The Big Ten Network has already succeeded beyond anybody’s hopes in a short period of time. Right now 45 million people subscribe to it, but and additional 75 million homes have access to it. It is available in 19 of the 20 largest TV markets in the country.
**–The Big Ten received a $60 million rights fee up front last year for the BTN from Fox Sports (which owns a 49 percent stake). Then the BTN made an additional $66 million in profit. Advertising revenue was up 30 percent last year in a down economy.
**–Greenstein reports that if the Big Ten expands and chooses the right schools, league officials have seen estimates of revenues doubling by the 22015-2016 academic year.
**–And this is the best one of all from Greenstein: For every BTN subscriber in the eight-state footprint of the Big Ten, the league gets 70 to 80 cents a month. For every subscriber outside the footprint it is about 10 cents. So guess what happens if the Big Ten starts adding states like Nebraska, Missouri and New Jersey to their footprint? Not only do the subscriptions increase but the income the Big Ten gets from those subscriptions goes up as much as eight-fold in that state. If Nebraska joins the Big Ten, how many homes in that state will sign up for the BTN? I’d say just about all of them.
If you are Mike Slive and the SEC presidents, do those numbers get your attention? You bet they do.
Yes, the SEC has the competitive advantage now. But remember that there has been a spike in coaches’ salaries in the SEC because the funds were available from the new TV contracts. Remember we told you that a year ago only two coordinators in this league were making $500,000 or more. Now there are a bunch of them in that salary range. And that number will grow.
What if every Big Ten school is suddenly making $35 million a year and the SEC is still at $17 million? Over ten years that’s $180 million more per school that is invested. Would that not make a competitive difference over a decade?
That is why the SEC can’t ignore what the Big Ten may do.
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