During the academics year of 2006-07, a conference record $122 million was divided and distributed to the 12 member institutions. Of that, $48.3 million was reported as television revenue from football. Outstanding athletics talent, high profile coaches, exclusive bowl agreements along with regional (Lincoln Financial), cable (ESPN) and national (CBS) network broadcast partners have been instrumental forces catapulting the SEC to a position of prominence among fans and media across the nation.
The marketing genesis for the league's success begins with visionary leaders displaying the courage of their convictions as they initiate calculated risks to promote their product. Network and conference officials implementing aggressive, progressive and successive strategies possess the means to strengthen the television ratings and generate unforeseen revenue increases.
According to CBS, the 12-week 2006 regular season national average household rating/share was 3.1/7 amounting to 3% increase from a 3.0/7 of 2005. The 2006 SEC Championship game earned a national average household rating/share of 4.5/8, improving 13% from 4.0/8 of 2005. CBS's tentative fall television football schedule reveals the collaborative plans involving three different changes designed to enhance audience viewing numbers.
CBS in conjunction with league officials has chosen to experiment by switching the normal start time of 2:30 p.m. central time on two weekends which could affect Alabama's games against Florida State (September 29) and LSU (November 3) if selected for broadcast by the national network. Michael Aresco, CBS vice president of Programming for Sports, explained the reasons for the time . He said, "We wanted to experiment with slightly later start times. The purpose is essentially to see whether the 5 (eastern time) start would generate higher ratings. We think it probably will." Usually the ESPN game begins at 7:45 or 8 p.m. eastern, so the hour between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. eastern is relatively unopposed, justifying the strategic attempt to spike the ratings although slight overlap into the prime time broadcast would be a league concern. The calculated risk might be a precursor to consider permanent change according to Aresco, "I think the conference finds it a very intriguing and interesting experiment to see whether in fact we really do get higher ratings. It might prove to be something you want to do more of down the road."
Marriage of the later start times combined with the propensity for tight competitive contests evidenced by last year's 15 close encounters broadcast by CBS would seem to go together like night and day or actually day to night in the proposed scenario. Aresco said, "We thought if we started at 5:00 PM EST and we were in the second half and have a good game, at that point between 7 and 8, we could potentially make some hay and really generate a pretty interesting rating." Changes were made permissible after contract discussions with ESPN, which received schedule considerations from CBS for next year's college football season.
The 75th SEC anniversary celebration will be incorporated with expanded coverage on those two aforementioned weekends as the extended one hour pre-game show will in all likelihood devote the first half hour to the rich historical tradition of the conference. Featured segments highlighting great players, superior teams, fantastic finishes, and legendary coaches will resonate with SEC and college football enthusiasts across the nation.
Complementing CBS's broadcast will be CSTV's SEC Football Nation airing every Saturday evening beginning September 15, with in-depth interviews, analysis and highlights of the day's action. Air time will fluctuate according to CSTV's programming schedule.
Anxious alumni apprehensive about a late morning start for the annual bragging rights feud festival will welcome CBS's second alteration as the scheduled doubleheader for rivalry weekend on November 24 moves ahead 90 minutes to a new kick-off time of 12:30 p.m. CST and 4 p.m. CST for the second game. Intrastate adversaries Alabama-Auburn and Florida State-Florida are tentatively scheduled to be combatants cast that day with the order of games to be determined. Successful ratings could precipitate similar time changes down the road.
Change number three repositions the SEC championship game to 3 p.m. CST (4 p.m. in Atlanta) from 6 p.m. eastern, circumventing the previous year's dip into prime time and the dovetail conflict with this year's Big 12 championship starting at 8 p.m. EST. The earlier kick-off begins before ABC's potential broadcast of the Los Angeles-based slugfest featuring west coast marquee teams UCLA and USC at 4:30 p.m. eastern. Service academies Army and Navy will be the participants for the lead-in game shown at noon EST on CBS prior to the SEC Championship pre-game show scheduled for 3:30 EST.
Championship Saturday held the first weekend in December annually mesmerizes the college football community as talk of the Bowl Championship Series dominates the airwaves. An SEC member school contending for inclusion in the subjective hunt for power points from pollsters could favorably impact the discussion with the window of opportunity afforded by the new time slot.
Other Alabama games tentatively on the CBS radar for broadcast are Georgia, September 22, Ole Miss, October 13 and Tennessee, October 20. Ten conference games for broadcast are determined through a selection process with CBS and ESPN before the season. The tantalizing ten reflect the networks projection for most appealing games with CBS holding six out of the first seven priority picks.
Once the season begins the game decisions are still fluid because of emerging story lines or a surprise team although conference and national implications influence the selection process with CBS having the flexibility of 12 and 6 day options before a firm schedule is announced. According to Aresco, CBS prefers to make an early commitment to broadcast a game not only to ease logistical preparations for the network but for the convenience of the university's fans.
'BAMA polled all 12 SEC members for opinions on the time changes that will be implemented by CBS this football season. All schools were in general agreement concerning the two weekends, the doubleheader and the SEC championship. Conceding the time changes do not significantly deviate from the normal window from years past, schools recognize the network's opportunity to explore a potential windfall. A later afternoon start in September will mitigate the blistering sunlight to the delight of fans in attendance but in contrast the unpleasant colder temperatures might surface for the November games. Road teams might grumble about arriving home slightly later as will some fans.
Saturated with momentum of national championships in the most visible televised sports of football, men's and women's basketball, the SEC is the conference people love and fear which means they've arrived at the pinnacle because in America, the dominant force is equally revered and jeered by opposing factions. Sports by nature allures you with unscripted drama enacted play by play, frequently culminating with a crescendo materializing in the final moments. Will the national network modifications stimulate television ratings and fortify the SEC's reign on top of the college football world? Only the proposed formula casting elements of spectacular endings combined with repositioned times stirred in the broadcast crucible will disclose the compound's ability to ignite the Nielsen numbers.
Editor's Note: A.P. Steadham is a features writer for 'BAMA Magazine and BamaMag.com.