THE PRICE POINT

SEC Football Will Move Millions From CBS To ABC Affils

When SEC football moves from CBS to ABC in the fall of 2024, CBS affiliates across the conference will lose the single most advertiser-friendly venue in their arsenals. Millions of dollars will move en masse to ABC affiliates, turning station budgets and revenue audits upside down. The halo CBS affiliates have enjoyed will move right along with those dollars.

When Georgia and Alabama square off tonight to decide the College Football National Championship it will the seventh time during the eight-year history of the playoffs that at least one SEC team has competed.

Since record keeping began, SEC teams have won 43 national championships in football. That means on any given fall Saturday the conference fields potential playoff teams across the schedule. In 2025 Texas and Oklahoma, both of which have also won multiple national championships, will join the conference. No wonder in the deep south there is a common saying that “The SEC Championship actually is the national championship.”

Unless you’ve lived in a Southeastern Conference city, it’s difficult to understand the full power of SEC football. It’s not just that games produce massive ratings, some beating Super Bowl numbers, but related programming such as post-game shows, coaches shows and even some commentators all draw large audiences. SEC Network personality Paul Finebaum is a megastar in SEC country, second only to Elvis.

To its fans, SEC football is not merely a sport. It is a year-round consuming force that affects every aspect of society.

Take the LSU/Ole Miss rivalry. I once attended a series of meetings in Oxford the week before LSU came to town. Every meeting, every conversation, every interaction between people ended with someone giving the benediction “Go to Hell LSU!”  This was not said in a perfunctory manner. It was bawled out with emotion and force. I wasn’t there on Sunday, so I don’t know what they said in church.

Two weeks ago, during the Birmingham Bowl, hundreds of Alabama fans bought up $100 tickets so that they could root for Houston to beat Auburn.

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Speaking of Alabama, during a Dish Network blackout a lady once told me: “I’d like to get rid of Dish, but we have the last three seasons and all the championship games on our DVR. I can’t bear the thought of losing them. We watch one every weekend.”

SEC fans also hold grudges. In 2010 when Lane Kiffin suddenly exited Tennessee to become the head coach at USC, local politicians running for office bought airtime to accuse each other of being “no better than Lane Kiffin.”  When Kiffin later returned to Tennessee as Alabama’s offensive coordinator, state troopers served as bodyguards. Now the head coach at Ole Miss, Kiffin recently remarked that going to Tennessee is still “very dangerous.”

In the SEC East, Georgia fans have an intense and long-term hate for Florida, proudly calling themselves Gator Haters. Their annual matchup, always at a neutral site, also showcases another side of the SEC. It is known as “the world’s largest cocktail party.”

Of course there is also The Egg Bowl, The Iron Bowl and a slew of other games that create the incredible intensity that makes SEC football unique.

There is one exception. No one hates Vanderbilt. That game is considered a week off.

Lastly, I must admit that my own wife is one of those crazed fans. If Alabama is behind in the score, she rushes from the room in agony, sometimes carrying her Nick Saban autographed football.

Consider now what will happen when SEC football moves from CBS to ABC in the fall of 2024. CBS affiliates across the conference will lose the single most advertiser-friendly venue in their arsenals. Millions of dollars will move en masse to ABC affiliates, turning station budgets and revenue audits upside down. The halo CBS affiliates have enjoyed will move right along with those dollars.

Every market is different, so the stronger CBS affiliates will absorb the body blow and live to fight another day. But what of the weak CBS affiliates, those in third or fourth place? Forget the old fashiond answers: changing anchors and a new news set. Save your money because those things no longer work.

What can work is a bold, carefully thought-out vision, one that creates an actual product-based strategy that is highly calculated, platform agnostic, easy to communicate, and reasonably risky, because there is no reward without risk.

General managers of those CBS affiliates have big decisions to make, and they must be made soon because two years is a very short window to prepare for an earth quaking change.

I could go on, but right now my wife wants to talk about tonight’s game. She is terribly afraid Georgia might win. I’ve reminded her this is a rebuilding year for Alabama, but that does not matter to someone who thinks the CFP trophy should be permanently housed in Tuscaloosa. I hate to think what might happen if Alabama loses, but there is really nothing I can do. This is not about me, it’s not even about logic. This is the SEC.


Hank Price is a media consultant. His second book, Leading Local Television, has become a standard text for television general managers. In a 30-year general management career, Price led TV stations for Hearst, CBS and Gannett, including WBBM Chicago, KARE Minneapolis, WVTM Birmingham, Ala., and both WXII and WFMY in Greensboro/Winston Salem, N.C. Earlier, he was a consultant with Frank N. Magid Associates. Price also spent 15 years as senior director of Northwestern University’s Media Management Center. He is currently director of leadership development for the School of Journalism and New Media at Ole Miss.


Comments (3)

Leave a Reply

Cosmo says:

January 10, 2022 at 10:11 am

Hank has a serious case of Southern myopia. Perhaps this is why Hank laid an egg in Chicago; up North folks are not enamored of the SEC.

[email protected] says:

January 11, 2022 at 12:48 am

I can’t stand Nick Sabban I loath him he did MSU wrong always putting has name everywhere almost every season although 98 he didn’t put his name out there. Saban bolted for LSU after the 99 season for that he is a sellout and I never forgive him. Sorry that the wife isn’t going to be happy that Bama lost the Natty.

I’m surprised that Disney hasn’t bought the remaining 2 years left on SEC contract with CBS, which I believe they’ll sign on with Pac-12, Big-10 football rights just my opinion.

Good luck in 2023!! says:

January 11, 2022 at 9:15 am

Einsteins..Have you noticed the SEC’s record and Sabans 7 National Championships.?? Last I looked no one is giving him championships like lefties from Chicago probably want in their pc warped world!!


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