LOS ANGELES, September 13, 2013 — In recent years, the SEC has widely been considered to be the toughest conference in college football during the modern BCS era. In fact, out of the 15 championships since its inception in 1998, nine of them have been awarded to the SEC, which has 16 teams. Even more impressive is the fact that the last seven have been won consecutively. Prior to recent history, the SEC surprisingly only had only two national championships on record going all the way back to 1982.
This recent period of dominance has sparked major criticism and speculation over a growing SEC conspiracy and media bias towards the conference with the main culprit being ESPN/ABC.
ESPN was founded in 1979 and first bought by Disney/ABC in 1984 as part of the ABC Sports division. The struggling sports division ended up being sold to Capital Cities Communication, but then was later bought back by The Walt Disney Company in 1996.
When the BCS was proposed in 1998, founding architect Roy Kramer was also the SEC commissioner at the time, which led to speculation by many of a conference conspiracy. Subsequently, after the BCS was implemented, ESPN/ABC secured exclusive rights to coverage of the series that same year. The multi-million dollar deal from 1999-2006 would wind up being worth well over $550 million.
After the 1998 season, Tennessee was crowned as the first BCS champion in front of a record crowd in attendance and on television. The Fiesta Bowl’s television ratings increased by 250% over the previous year. Over 17 million people watched on television, and a marriage was consummated. NCAA football is now a billion dollar industry, and ESPN is worth an estimated $40 billion, according to Forbes, which ranks it as the highest among media outlets.
“To this day, the Walt Disney Company would not exist without ESPN,” former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, told Forbes, “The protection of Mickey Mouse is ESPN.”
There is also no debate that SEC fans are some of the most passionate and supportive of their college football teams as compared to the rest of the country. A Forbes report from last year, shows six out of the top ten valuable teams were in fact from the SEC. Texas, who has its own network through ESPN/ABC, is ranked highest in value. LSU, who comes in a number five, is the most valuable SEC team.
Forbes estimated the profits of each team in the top 20. The study showed each team had an average net profitability of 63%, which makes college football more profitable than Microsoft.
Television networks still have a vested interest in building and retaining the largest possible audience in order to keep their network of sponsors and advertisers happy. There is arguably no bigger interest for college football than from the south eastern region of the country. On Saturday Sept 7, 2013, ESPN had its largest audience since 2009, according to timesunion.com. Two of the three games broadcasted last Saturday by ESPN/ABC were directly tied to the SEC conference.
ESPN’s sheer influence has now stretched beyond the actual game itself, shaping the opinions of fans and voters alike. FBS schools are now consolidating to form super conferences as a result of even bigger TV deals and more school exposure. Last year, the SEC expanded on its core group with the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri.
“If we were in the Big-12, I don’t know that Johnny Manziel would have won the Heisman,” Eric Hyman, Texas A&M Athletic Director told the New York Times.
The relationship has been fruitful for both parties, as both the SEC and ESPN have seen record revenue streams pouring in and profits skyrocket. Due to the new TV contractual obligations, the arrangement and scheduling of games are now in the control of sports networks like ESPN. With the new playoff structure finally set to replace the BCS in 2014, which conference would you think stands to gain the most from it? You guessed it, the SEC. Each team in the SEC is estimated to have a revenue increase of $10-14 million.
Of course, ESPN/ABC has secured the exclusive rights to broadcasting the playoffs with a 12-year deal worth over $5.6 billion.
Welcome to the new age of college football.
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