While scheduling talk dominated the headlines last week during the SEC's spring meetings, the biggest news came on Friday in the form of 14 rather large checks.
The SEC distributed a conference-record $289.4 million to its member institutions, an average of $20.7 million per school, according to a release from the conference. That NCAA tournament revenue, media rights revenue and money generated from bowl games is up from totals of $73.2 million in 2000 and $209 million just three seasons ago.
As SEC commissioner Mike Slive told the Montgomery Advertiser after the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla.:
You must remember we’re dividing by 14, so that’s a pretty healthy number. We’re pleased to be able to contribute to the financial health of our institutions, and that’s without dealing with the SEC Network, so these numbers are totally unrelated to our future.
But it still places the SEC behind several big-name conferences in per-team distribution.
The Big 12 announced on Friday that eight of its 10 members will receive $22 million, according to Forbes.com, with newcomers TCU and West Virginia receiving a reduced share of $11 million. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported last month that the Big Ten will distribute $25.7 million per team this season ($308.4 million total) when the conference's fiscal year wraps up on June 30, with $7.6 million per team coming directly from the Big Ten Network.
And there's your reason for the SEC Network's existence.
The addition of Texas A&M and Missouri for 2012-13 skews the per-team distribution total, but the SEC trailing the Big Ten is more a virtue of timing than anything else.
The SEC signed landmark deals with CBS and ESPN in 2008 that pay the conference $205 million annually, but that quickly was eclipsed by other deals around the country. The addition of Texas A&M and Missouri gave the conference the ability to renegotiate, which resulted in the creation of the SEC Network starting in August 2014 and an extended deal with ESPN through 2034.
The long-term commitment to a conference-wide network with a primary media rights-holder is big for the SEC and will allow the conference and ESPN to hit the ground running with original content and programming owned by the two entities.
In other words, expect the SEC to contend for the money title in the not-too-distant future.
The Big Ten's fixture as the nation's richest conference is primarily due to the added revenue generated from its own network, which launched in 2007. The SEC is taking a similar path with its network, but it will do so with lessons learned from the Big Ten.
AT&T U-verse has already signed on to carry the SEC upon its launch, which is huge for the network's immediate success. The SEC network created immediate competition in the marketplace, which forces the hand of other distributors to either carry the network upon its launch or risk losing customers who can't wait for it.
That will make ESPN president John Skipper's vision of the network become a reality much quicker than the path the Big Ten Network took.
I want to emphasize that we believe this conference has national appeal. This is not a regional network. This is a national network. We understand that within the 11-state footprint it's where the most passionate fan base is, most important fan base, but there's a lot of SEC fans in California, Michigan, Connecticut, Nebraska. We expect to be in all those places widely distributed with this network.
With infrastructure already somewhat in place at ESPN's campus outside Charlotte, N.C., start-up costs will be reduced. In contrast, the Big Ten Network moved into new offices and studios in preparation for launch.
The SEC may lag behind the Big Ten in per-team distribution now, but it won't be long before the two are battling neck-and-neck for the revenue crown.
When Maryland and Rutgers join the Big Ten prior to the 2014 season, the two conferences will be on relatively equal footing from a quantity and media standpoint when the Big Ten goes back to renegotiate its ABC/ESPN deal which expires in 2016.
Will the SEC become the champion of the bottom line?
CBSSports.com reported in April that the SEC's media rights could be worth $400 million, thanks to the network, which almost doubles the $205 million the SEC generated last season through its television deals.
That's pretty strong.
The SEC meets the Big Ten in three bowl games per season, creating quite a rivalry around the holidays. The two will have quite a heated battle on the bottom line in years to come.
It should be fun to watch.