Today CBS Sports announced that the three highest rated college football telecasts of the 2011 season were all SEC game: LSU-Alabama, the SEC title game (LSU-Georgia), and the LSU-Arkansas game all received a 15 share or better. (The LSU-Alabama game received a 20 share, one of the highest ratings for a college football game in the past cable era). Let’s go ahead and kill the idea that a rematch is going to tank BCS ratings. If the SEC title game did a 15 share, an LSU-Alabama rematch will score high numbers as well.
More importantly, the SEC eclipsed its top competition in prime viewing, ESPN/ABC’s hand-selected Saturday night game that features the best game from the Big 12, the Pac 12, the Big East, the ACC, or the Big Ten, for the third consecutive year.
Why does that matter?
Because it proves that the SEC is becoming more and more of a national brand. This won’t get as much attention as it should, but the best game of the other five major conferences wasn’t able to beat the SEC for a third consecutive season.
Think about how shocking that is for a moment.
The best game that ABC could select from the rest of the country’s top five conferences couldn’t beat the SEC’s game of the week.
What’s more, sometimes those ABC telecasts were split to provide the best possible ratings numbers. That means that an ACC game might air in the South, a Pac12 game in the west, and a Big 12 or Big Ten game in the center of the country. (When Big East games were selected, ESPN/ABC executives would simply curl up in the fetal position and cry). Even with these split telecasts featuring local teams the SEC still won the ratings battle. That’s because in a balkanized college football nation, the SEC has become the nation’s preeminent brand.
It’s more evidence of what I’ve been telling y’all for a while — the SEC is the second most valuable brand in football behind the NFL and there isn’t a close third. Every year the SEC’s deal with CBS and ESPN makes the conference more of a destination for the nation’s top recruits. And that was before Texas A&M brought the Lone Star state into the SEC’s grasp. Right now Rivals.com has nine of the top 18 recruiting classes in the country from the SEC.
Sounds impressive, right?
Now combine it with this recruiting data from the past five seasons — the 2007 recruiting class was signed a month after Florida began the SEC’s run of dominance:
2007? Seven of the top 10 classes were from the SEC.
2008? Four of the top 11.
2009? Six of the top 12.
2010? Five of the top nine.
2011? Six of the top 13.
2012? More of the same.
Now want to feel really old? The kids who are in the class of 2013 were mostly born in 1996 and 1997. By and large kids start to pay some attention to college athletics around 8 or 9. (Stop with the emails, I know you or your kid starting paying attention when he or she was three or four. But you’re abnormal. And so is your porn collection of Steve Spurrier shirtless photos).
That means, you guessed it, the next few classes will be made up of kids who came of age during the SEC’s reign of dominance.
It’s great if your team was stellar in 1988, but kids don’t care. Hell, the class of 2013 doesn’t even care about Tennessee’s national title in 1998. They were one or two then.
Tally up all these recruiting classes and over the past five seasons the SEC has signed 28 of the top 55 classes in the nation.
Yep, over half.
Much of the media attention has been focusing on the amount of money that conferences receive for their broadcasts. That’s all well and good, the money spent on collegiate programming is exploding and the numbers game is fascinating, but one of the details that has been missed is this — the SEC has been slowly building a national brand via its television contract with CBS. Along the way more and more viewers across the country are selecting the SEC as their preferred game of choice over local or regional teams.
Why does that matter?
Because Mike Slive has been executing a brilliant strategy. He’s been pocketing money while developing brand loyalty in the rest of the country. (Only Notre Dame can match the SEC’s deal with CBS, and NBC’s deal with Notre Dame pales in comparison because, quite simply, the Irish stink. SEC dominance can be cyclical, but the SEC game of the week is always going to be pretty good because you have 12, and now 14, teams to choose among).
Eventually the SEC’s national brand is going to pay off big time, when the SEC and ESPN announce a new television network that will be worth billions over the lifetime of the deal. (The link is to a September piece I did on the coming ESPN/SEC Network. You should read that if you want to be ahead of the curve on that news coming down in the near future.) It’s not just viewers in the SEC’s expanded state footprint who will be clamoring for content — it’s viewers all over the country. But Slive has been smart, he’s also assured that the best game of the week will be broadcast nationally to the entire country on CBS until 2024. That is, the national exposure to the best that the SEC has to offer will not wane.
But guess what happens in 2024? That deal expires. After a decade of the SEC-ESPN television network, what will the value of the SEC’s game of the week be in 2024?
Come 2024, just 12 years from now, the SEC will face a really interesting decision, what if the SEC Network is so powerful then that it can put all of its games on that network?
How many more dollars in subscriber fees could the SEC on ESPN demand then from national viewers who have grown used to settling down on the couch every Saturday and watching the top teams in the SEC duel?
I’ll tell you, the SEC’s television package would become so valuable that the SEC might well have to be part of the standard cable package. And if the SEC Network is part of the standard cable package in much of the country, the SEC will truly be able to make it rain on college sports.
Make no mistake, the SEC’s march to national brand status is well underway and each year it becomes more and more clear that ManifeSECt Destiny is the goal.
Don’t blink, you might miss the rise, because even the SEC’s brand has speed.