SEC swaps CBS for ESPN in multi-year media rights agreement

The University of Georgia's Sanford Stadium

US media giant ESPN has agreed a ten-year media rights deal to carry the Southeastern Conference (SEC), in a contract worth $3 billion, according to the New York Times.

The Disney-owned broadcaster and its sister network ABC will show the college sports conference until 2033/24, taking over the deal from commercial network CBS, which has housed the SEC since 1996.

As part of the agreement, which was announced during an investor’s day hosted by Disney on Thursday, the SEC will receive $300 million a year from the contract, a sum which is more than five times the annual figure that the division was paid by CBS.

ESPN will show Saturday afternoon top football games and the SEC conference championship, along with eight key men’s basketball fixtures. The SEC title game will also be aired on ABC, with the remaining football games assigned to ESPN’s cable channels and the ESPN+ streaming service.

Jimmy Pitaro, Chairman of ESPN and Sports Content, reflected on the ‘milestone’ deal: “This new agreement was born from a strong foundation which began almost 25 years ago and now reflects a shared vision of the future with the SEC, commissioner Sankey and their member institutions.

“With all the conference’s games under the ESPN umbrella and adding ABC and ESPN+ to our distribution channels, ESPN will have complete scheduling flexibility, resulting in maximum exposure and adding significant benefits for SEC schools, student-athletes and fans.”

CBS will carry SEC for three more years until its contract expires and the network released a statement which insisted it made a ‘strong and responsible bid’ to retain the SEC but is now ‘choosing to aggressively focus on other important strategic priorities moving forward’.

In a separate deal which runs concurrently until 2023, ESPN has secured the rights to football events, men and women’s basketball, baseball and softball.

“This is a significant day for the Southeastern Conference and for the future of our member institutions,” added SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. “Our agreement with ESPN will greatly enhance our ability to support our student-athletes in the years ahead and to further enrich the game day experience for SEC fans around the world.

“The broadcast industry’s intense and widespread interest in securing the SEC’s first tier rights is a direct reflection of the sustained excellence achieved by our 14 member schools, and we are thrilled to have been able to maximise our current position of strength to benefit our student-athletes, the fans who go to our games and home viewers.”

It will not be the first time that SEC and ESPN have joined forces – in 2013, the two parties launched the SEC Network, a multinational sports channel exclusively dedicated to collegiate sports, and have teamed up once more.

Insider Insight: CBS’ original deal for the broadcast rights to SEC was thought to be considerable value for money for the commercial network. However, the athletic conference’s new agreement with ESPN will bring increased exposure to college sports.

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