ESPN loves them some SEC on Saturday night

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In the 2013 college football regular season, there were 110 slots in Saturday prime time games on the ESPN networks. The SEC filled half (55) of those slots. No other conference filled more than 12.

What you’re about to read is a breakdown of the prime time TV slots on the ESPN networks, and how many of them were filled by each major football conference. Here are the definitions:

  • College football regular season: the 14 Saturdays spanning from August 31st to November 30th (conference championship weekend not included)
  • Prime Time Saturday: the game starts between 6:00 PM and 9:00 PM Eastern Time, Saturday
  • ESPN Networks: ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and ABC
  • Major football conferences: SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC 12 and Notre Dame (yes, I just went there)

Any teams outside those conferences and not named Notre Dame are filed under “Other.”

Each game that fits those criteria includes two teams, or two “slots.” There were 55 games shown on those networks during the 14-week regular season, so that’s 110 slots for teams to fit into.

Let’s get to the data. My source for game broadcast data was Matt Sarzyniak’s “College Sports on TV” web site, in particular the 2013 College Football Page on Matt’s site.

First of all, here’s an image that includes all the data in table form, as a screenshot of a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. CLICK IT FOR A LARGER VERSION. For those of you on phones, sorry, you won’t be able to see this very well.

Prime Time TV slots per conference

Here’s the raw data in text form:

  • Prime time TV slots: 110
  • SEC slots: 55 (50%)
  • ACC slots: 12 (10.9%)
  • Big Ten slots: 9 (8.2%)
  • PAC 12 slots: 9 (8.2%)
  • Big 12 slots: 8 (7.3%)
  • Notre Dame slots: 3 (2.7%)
  • “Other” slots: 14 (12.7%)

There are all types of ways that you can further slice and dice the data. For example, the number of in-conference games shown for each conference:

  • SEC: 23
  • ACC: 4
  • PAC 12: 4
  • Big Ten: 3
  • Big 12: 3

That means that 46 of the 110 slots were taken up by SEC matchups, and just eight or six slots for other conferences.

Five of Alabama’s games were in those prime-time slots. Six of LSU games were listed, including dog games UAB at LSU and Kent State at LSU. Ole Miss, who finished 7-5 and 6th in the SEC West, filled five slots. SEC doormat Kentucky, a 2-10 team with wins over Miami (OH) and Alabama State, appeared four times. That’s like NC State (3-9, 0-8 ACC) or Virginia (2-10, 0-8) being on prime time on ESPN four times. (For the record, neither team appeared a single time.)

We all know that the SEC is featured a lot on ESPN and ABC on Saturday nights, but to see the actual numbers is alarming, if you’re a fan of any conference other than the SEC. If you’re an SEC fan, great, more night games for you. Run your errands during the day, grab some beer and chips, and watch your favorite team at night.

None of this comes as a surprise to me, of course. The SEC is generally regarded as the “best” college football, however you define that. For me, it’s the best athletes playing in front of the biggest, most passionate crowds. As a college football fan, I want to see guys make plays, and I want to hear the crowd roar when they do. (So watching a game at Miami, for example, doesn’t interest me very much. If you have a football game, and nobody’s there to see it, did it really happen?)

But Vanderbilt and Ole Miss and Kentucky are only so interesting. I’ll watch them once or twice a year, and that’s it. And remember, CBS gets all the very best SEC games and puts them on (mostly) at 3:30 in the afternoon. How many more SEC games would ESPN show at night if they had first dibs?

ESPN is obviously putting all they’ve got behind the SEC. Again, I get that; it’s good business. The SEC “dominated” 2013 TV ratings, per this article on SBNation. But how much of that is a self-fulfilling prophecy? If you give half of the best slots to one conference, well … wouldn’t you expect them to “dominate” ratings? I would.

There isn’t much other conferences can do about this. ESPN is the 800-pound gorilla, and they’re paying out billions of dollars to college football’s major conferences. But it’s a rich-get-richer cycle, where the SEC gets the best TV slots, and gets the best ratings, and gets the best recruits, and gets the best TV slots, and gets the best ratings ….

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30 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I’m furious that Ohio State choked and lost to Michigan State. I don’t care for the Buckeyes, and my heart was with the Spartans. They earned their victory. But for once I really wanted OSU to win big simply so the SEC would get shut out of the title game. Thank God F$U won, otherwise we’d have an all-SEC title game with freakin’ Alabama again….

  2. ESPN will find this is a bad idea.
    First off, I find typical SEC fans know only about the SEC, and no real first hand knowledge of other conferences (they don’t sit there at watch Ohio St unless its a high profile game)
    Second, They’ve already got the SEC fans hooked. they’re not going away, and they’re probably not bringing in many more by giving them prime-time saturday slots every week. However, the “disrespect” being shown to the other 80% of the college football world is starting to be noticed/felt.
    Third, as a dedicated football fan, I spend a lot of my Saturday’s watching various games, but i’ll be damned if i’m going to skip Saturday nights out on the town with friends/etc. every day of the week. They’re burning their SEC fans out!

    just my two cents… the pendulum will swing

    1. to complete my thought on the “first off”, that means they don’t sit around all day watching college football from other leagues.

  3. You’re wrong about your last point. The Big12 and PAC 12 did something about it, they signed with Fox. Thats why their numbers are lower than ours quite frankly. They saw what was going on at ESPN, hell anyone could see it since they signed their first big deal in 07. So the Big12 and PAC 12 signed a good deal for them with Fox. ESPN has gone all in with the SEC. I remember a couple of years ago a few good ACC games were played in the afternoon while ESPN showed LSU beat some 1aa on ESPNU at night. None can convince me that anyone cares about that game outside of LA.

  4. This is purely anecdotal, but it sure seems to me that there are more exciting and entertaining games in the SEC than any other conference. ESPN could be taking into account that fans want to see competitive, exciting games that come down to the last play, and the SEC produces more of those games than any other conference. Whenever I think back to the best games of the year, most seem to happen in the SEC. And actually, most of those seem to happen in the 3:30 CBS time slot, so ESPN isn’t really getting much of that action.

  5. …and that’s why we play all the noon games. We are in the upper tier of non-SEC TV assets. I bet Michigan and OSU played a bunch of noon games too.

  6. Good article Will…..The 4 other conferences and the NCAA should get involved…this is definitely a recruiting advantage for the SEC…need to put a stop to this NOW!!!!
    Pass this story on to all of your non SEC buddies so there will be some noise made.
    Sort of an analogy….I may be off base but when there is a political campaign isn’t there something about all the TV stations must provide equal live air time to the candidates?
    Also, forget Notre Dame….if they don’t want to be in a football conference let them fight their own battle.

    1. So you think high school students are sitting at home watching SEC football on Saturday nights? And more specifically those that play football? I doubt it.

  7. Honest question…at one point I recall the size of the ACC’s and SEC’s contract with ESPN being roughly equal. Granted, the SEC also had their CBS contract, so their total TV package was a lot larger. But in terms of simply how much ESPN had at stake with the two conferences, it was pretty even. I swear the ACC’s might have even been a smidge larger.

    Was that before the TAMU/Mizzou expansion and did the SEC renegotiate their ESPN contract to get them ludicrous money?

  8. SEC gets 1/2 of the slots because espn paid the SEC a gazillion dollars to televise their games.

    What would cause espn to crap in it’s britches would be 1/2 way through that very long contract the SEC noticeably became much more ordinary.

  9. Even if I’m not watching a particular ACC contest, I’ll leave the TV on that channel just for the very tiny ratings boost. It doesn’t matter what sport is involved. Yeah I’m weird. LOL

    1. You do realize that you are not being rated unless you have a Nielsen settop box or a written survey to fill in, right. They can’t record who is watching what unless you give them permission. IOW, Save your electricity.

      1. I was under the impression that any cable or satellite company that provides a DVR is able to tell what you’re watching.

  10. I noticed SEC stranglehold very early in the year so I decided to boycott the SEC as much as I could. I have a 60″ TV and right next to it I have 50″ TV and I refused to play any SEC games on the main TV and only a select few SEC games on the secondary TV.

    Go ACC!

  11. Hey, if it is a good match up, I watch, regardless of conference. I won’t watch Auburn vs. Kentucky just because it is SEC. And there is nothing worse than a ND vs. Purdue Sat night game (ugh). But if it is Alabama vs. Oregon, or Auburn vs. Georgia, or FSU vs. Oklahoma, I’ll watch. Don’t care which conference it is. If the ACC had more good intraconference games that resonated with viewers, we could get more Sat night.

  12. You say there is nothing the other conferences can do about this, which is true in a sense. But here is my take – each one of us is a part of VT and thus part of the ACC. So I do what I can do – I turn the channel when any SEC team is on, unless it is an ACC-SEC matchup. I refuse to be a part of their ratings. I’m sick of having the SEC shoved down my throat. I could care less if the “football is better”. I’ll go watch Army play someone and enjoy it just as much. Spread the word, if every ACC fan followed suit it WOULD make a difference.

    1. If you aren’t a Neelsen family it doesn’t matter what you watch.

      And even if I WERE a Nielsen family, it wouldn’t matter much, since I’m far outside the “Demo” that is most desired by advertisers.

  13. All sports go in cycles. Even the most consistent team right now, has had bad years and will have bad years in the future. Name a team, any team, in every sport, and you can point to a time they were not good. Some may never have been the worst, but none are the best forever.

    Even with all of the advantages the SEC has gotten, they still only have 11 teams bowl eligible and they need help for one of their teams to make the BCS title game. Eventually, the SEC will be bad, or at least not in the top two conferences in the country. ESPN may not want to promote the SEC as much at that point.

    By the way, there are 12 ACC teams bowl eligible AND we have a team more than likely playing in the BCS title game.

    ESPN is put most of their eggs in the SEC bucket for good reason, but we all agreed to this when we took their money. If the ACC wants better coverage at better times, they should sign with Fox, NBC, or CBS. Give up a little money for better exposure while helping a network that needs to get better games. Maybe that would have been a better, long term solution to the problem.

    My issue with all of this is more the subjective nature of College Football. Popular opinion says a lot in who gets a shot at the title game and I’m tired of hearing the talking heads “campaign” for SEC teams. I don’t watch ESPN anymore except for live games and PTI, and I could do without most of their broadcast teams. The only reason I watch PTI is because both of them know sports are just sports and they treat it all accordingly.

  14. This article seems incomplete with no mention of how the effect of the new Fox sports network. They carried some big games this year, mostly B12 & Pac-12, it seemed.

    1. It wasn’t meant to be a comprehensive analysis. It also didn’t mention how CBS’S deal with the SEC affects things.

  15. And the rich get richer. ESPN serves to showcase the SEC no way any other conference can compete with that for recruiting. ESPN is the SEC’s biggest recruiting tool.

  16. I certainly understand why VT admin does not want Tech in the SEC. Being on National TV in prime time would be such a drag on the football program.

  17. CBS has a rule that SEC cant have other games at same time the CBS game is on which is usually 3:30, one week it was 7 which was the week vt-miami played at night. This leaves espn to fill sec in 12 or 7pm slots and they usually get the prime slots.

  18. I think too much is probably being made of the SEC’s dominance of ESPN’s time slots. The fact of the matter is that, even if the SEC is subject to lagging attendance just like the rest of college football, SEC games are the most likely to feature an insanely raucous atmosphere. And that equates to stakes, and stakes equates to drama, and drama is what makes for entertaining television.

    I realize these were both CBS games, but nonetheless, consider the endings of the Auburn/GA and Auburn/Bama games. They would’ve been remarkable under any circumstance, of course. But if they had transpired at the end of an ACC game played in front of a sluggish 45,000 at Kenan or a 20% full Sun Life, those endings would’ve been something interesting to note on SportsCenter or watch the clips of on YouTube. In front of 85,000 (or whatever it is) at J-H you’ve got biblical drama. CBS and ESPN are right to want their prime time cameras trained on those stadiums – that’s where the greatest drama is most likely to occur.

    The good news here is that in the modern college football landscape, this doesn’t mean that if your team plays in a conference other than the SEC that you will never get to see them on TV. Odds are you can barely escape seeing them on TV, in fact. (Unless you’re a Pac 12 fan w/o the ability to get DirecTV, I guess.) You just aren’t going to see them between 7pm and 10:30pm on an ESPN network on Saturday nights.

    1. CBS and ESPN are scrambling to be the first to make ALL games finish like the Ala/Aub. game. It’s just a matter of formulating the algorithm.

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