The SEC got some really great news on the TV front, which translates into really terrible news for the University of Utah and the rest of the Pac-12. Because not all Power Five conferences are equally powerful, and the gap between them is growing.
CBS announced it dropped out of negotiations to renew its SEC football package, which ends after the 2023 season. CBS currently pays $55 million a year; it offered $300 million a year; ESPN/ABC reportedly offered $330 million, and is expected to announce a deal shortly.
That would be an additional $275 million a year to the league. Divided by 14, that would be another $19.6 million per SEC team. And that’s for just 15 games a year, giving ESPN/ABC its pick of the best game each week.
Not all that money would be distributed to member schools, but a lot of it would go into the pockets of Alabama, LSU, Georgia and the rest of the SEC.
Why is this bad for the Pac-12? Because it already makes less from TV than the SEC (and ACC, Big Ten and Big 12) — money that’s used to build facilities to sign and keep top athletes, pay top coaches and so on.
Last year, the Pac-12 distributed $29.5 million in TV revenue — from ESPN, Fox and the Pac-12 Networks — to each of its member schools, including Utah. Not only was that $1.5 million less than the year before, it was $15.2 less than the SEC per-school payout; $24.5 million less than the Big Ten; and $9.3 million less than the Big 12. It was equal to the ACC revenue, but that league — in partnership with ESPN — launched its own TV channel in August, and revenue is expected to increase significantly.
The Pac-12 is already behind the other four Power Five leagues in the money race, and on the field. The league hasn’t gotten a team into College Football Playoff three years in a row, and it’s only gotten in twice in six years. Compare that to seven SEC teams, six ACC teams, and four each for the Big 10 and Big 12.
Yes, the Pac-12 will almost undoubtedly get more money in the next go-round; its current deals expire in 2024. And, sure, maybe there’s money to be had from streaming services — though talks with Apple earlier this year apparently went nowhere.
The Pac-12 is hoping for a big payday in 2024. It’s hard to imagine it will be bigger than what the SEC is getting from the reported deal with ESPN/ABC. And the Pac-12 is already way behind in this TV revenue arms race.
WHY DID CBS DROP OUT? • The powers that be at newly re-merged ViacomCBS didn’t want to spend more than $300 million on the SEC because their NFL contract expires at the end of the 2022 season. And they’re going to spend whatever it takes to keep it.
CBS can survive without the SEC. But losing the NFL would be a huge blow.
Maybe CBS will have something left over to bid for Pac-12 TV rights. Even if it doesn’t win, maybe CBS will help drive up the price. Maybe.
CBS and its cable sports network do need programming. The network recently won the rights to UEFA Champions League soccer — a three-year deal in 2021-22. We don’t know if games will air exclusively on CBS Sports Network; I’d guess that at least the championship match will air on the CBS broadcast network.