It’s a crisp Saturday morning in October. The air in Tuscaloosa, Alabama is filled with thick, alluring barbecue smoke. It is game day, and the number one ranked Alabama Crimson Tide are poised for yet another victory. This is a typical Saturday not only in Tuscaloosa, but for the Southeastern Conference (SEC) as a whole. People take SEC football seriously down there, and it shows in more ways than one. Consistent victory is an expectation of SEC teams, sure. But take a look behind the curtains, and we’ll see a different level of dominance.
SEC games are in high demand for sports fans, so who’s the lucky sonofabitch distributor that gets to provide it? CBS has had a tight wrap on SEC content for two decades, and they very much intend to keep it that way.
Since 1996, CBS has been the main television partner for the SEC. While other networks have rights to distribute SEC content, CBS gets a “first dibs” of sorts. For example, CBS airs all weekly in-conference games and out of conference games where the SEC team is the home team. If the particular game in question does not meet either of these two stipulations, the ESPN Family of Networks has the broadcast rights.
Despite having the rights to broadcast great football, CBS is not without its competition from the environment. We are living in a period of great change, and while the NFL is feeling the negative effects of this change, Southeastern Conference games are enjoying a steady increase in viewership. But why?
It all comes down to Saturday.
All college football is played on Saturdays. The reasoning for this is that since no NFL games are on Saturdays but rather Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays, the two will not have to compete for what is mostly a shared audience. Saturdays are also the most optimal days for the student athletes to participate in both their academics and sport effectively.
This formula has worked well in the past, but a new social climate is beginning to steal viewership away from football, NFL primetime games especially.
Take for instance any of the seven games of the 2016 World Series. ALL seven games outperformed the last month of NFL primetime games. In fact, game seven was the most watched baseball game of the last decade and a half, garnering a massive 25.2 rating.
NFL primetime games also had to compete with two of the three presidential debates, which of course did not pan out well for them.
So why through all of this environmental turmoil can the SEC on CBS stay afloat? I may be biased, but I firmly believe the Alabama Crimson Tide has a strong pull that cannot be ignored.
In fact, if we were to take the top ten most watched SEC on CBS games, seven of them featured Alabama, whether they won or lost.
While CBS has “first dibs” status on all in-conference SEC games, their contract stipulates that they can only broadcast five games of one particular team per season. Guess which team they maxed out on for both the 2014 and 2015 seasons? CBS even paid ESPN a premium to allow them to broadcast a sixth Alabama game in 2015, being the much hyped in state rivalry game, the Iron Bowl.
While the numbers speak for themselves, I highly recommend you turn on your television and watch Alabama play football. They have the ability to inspire much more than national championships.