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CBS Sealed Their Fate to Lose SEC Football With Over a Decade Left on the Deal

SEC on CBS
SEC on CBS

Friday night, Sports Business Journal reported that CBS has broken off negotiations with the SEC, and that all signs point to the conference's game of the week package heading to ABC/ESPN when the rights expire in 2023. Fox still plans to make their pitch. You might think it's remarkable that this is already nearly set and done four years in advance, but CBS losing the package happened years ago. As far as the SEC was concerned, this relationship has been severed for over a half-decade.

In 2008, CBS and the SEC agreed to a 15-year deal through 2023, at a rate of about $55 million per year. This number quickly became the deal of the century for CBS as live sports rights skyrocketed ever higher. All the evidence you need that this rights package was severely undervalued is the price tag; Disney will reportedly bid about six times higher per year than the current deal. (By the way, remember a couple years ago when ESPN and Disney were dying and being derisively wished #goodluck? Give me a business death where I can go big game hunting for incremental rights packages that cost over $300 million per year.)

You can't blame CBS for getting a great deal, but when the SEC expanded to add Missouri and Texas A&M in 2012, one of their rights partners renegotiated their TV deal and the other stood firm. Disney/ESPN signed a new rights deal through 2034 that included the launch of the SEC Network, while CBS wouldn't budge off its great bargain.

This is not just revisionist history now that the price grew out of the range CBS was willing to foot: Clay Travis wrote about these dynamics over five years ago in 2014, flatly asserting that differences were so irreconcilable that there was nothing that could change in nine years to change the SEC's mind. It was a matter of when, and not if, this relationship would be over.

Knowing their rights were undervalued, the SEC hired CAA last year to work on the rights negotiations. They are fetching a king's ransom.

This will be a big loss for CBS. Sports Media Watch summed up this package's dominance in 2019:

For the season, the SEC on CBS averaged a 4.2 rating and 7.10 million viewers — ranking as the network’s most-watched college football package since 1990. The 4.2 rating (+24%) is the highest for any network this year.

Sports Media Watch

Functionally, this opens up some money for CBS to pursue other conference rights, like the Big-12 or Pac-12. Maybe they could even go after the NHL. But they'll be hard-pressed to figure out a scenario where they average over seven million viewers on a new package.

UPDATE: Clay Travis reports that ABC/ESPN have officially won the bid for the SEC game of the week: