How SEC’s new TV deal will affect league, fans

The Southeastern Conference logo is displayed on the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (2019 file photo by ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
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The Southeastern Conference logo is displayed on the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (2019 file photo by ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

The SEC’s signature football telecasts, including the “game of the week” and the conference championship game, will move from CBS to ABC starting in 2024.

A long-expected deal, announced Thursday, will make the Walt Disney Company, including ESPN and ABC, the exclusive TV rights holder of SEC games and will end the conference’s decades-long partnership with CBS.

Some questions and answers about the new deal and what it’ll mean for the league and viewers:

Will the game deemed to be the SEC’s best each week remain at 3:30 p.m. on Saturdays?

Yes, there will be a weekly SEC game on ABC in that time window. “Probably one of the first points of dialogue we had is the importance of that regular viewing window at 3:30 p.m.,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said during a video conference with media members Thursday night. “We have that as part of our agreement.”

But the mid-afternoon game may less often be the league’s top matchup, because ABC’s prime-time “Saturday Night Football” series also will televise “in the realm” of a half-dozen SEC games per year, ESPN executive vice president Burke Magnus said.

Other than ABC, which Disney networks will carry SEC games?

As the SEC’s existing and extensive deal with ESPN continues, games will be shown on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and the ESPN-operated SEC Network. The difference is that the marquee games now on CBS, such as Georgia-Florida and Alabama-Auburn, will move to ABC.

“All of these (SEC) games on ABC will be nationally distributed,” Magnus said. “We’re not talking about regionalization here. We’re talking about a national game at 3:30 on ABC. When they play in prime time, obviously nationally as well.”

In addition, beginning in 2021, one non-conference game per team per year can be shown on streaming service ESPN-Plus.

With the new deal not starting until 2024, will CBS continue to televise the SEC’s 3:30 p.m. games on Saturdays and the conference championship games through the 2023 season?

As things stand now, yes.

The SEC’s contract with CBS runs through 2023, so those games will remain on CBS until then unless Disney negotiates a buyout of the final years of that contract.

“I think we’re open to that possibility, but obviously it would have to be a circumstance that works for all involved,” Magnus said. “It’s an existing relationship that we’re perfectly comfortable waiting for it to run its course.”

CBS pulled out of negotiations on an extension of its SEC contract late last year.

How much more money will the SEC get from the new deal?

About six times more.

The current CBS deal, signed in 2008, pays the SEC $55 million per year, while the new Disney deal will pay the league in “the low $300 million range annually,” according to Sports Business Journal. That comes to about $3 billion for the league over the 10-year term of the deal – or an average of about $21.5 million annually per SEC school.

And that is in addition to the SEC’s existing deal with ESPN.

How will putting all SEC games under the ESPN/ABC umbrella affect scheduling?

Many kickoff times can be set further in advance because the SEC won’t have to wait for CBS to make the first pick of games on each week’s schedule.

Sankey said consolidating all telecasts under one media company’s umbrella will allow times “for about half of our games” to be announced in the summer preceding the start of the season, rather than the customary 12 days or six days in advance. “Particularly for early (afternoon) games … fans will know during the summer when their team will be in one of those,” Sankey said.

Does the new deal affect SEC basketball?

Approximately eight additional “marquee” men’s basketball games per season will be shown on ABC or ESPN.

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