HOOVER, Ala. — Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive said he’ll make the most critical decision of his tenure, the choice to form an SEC television network or renew the traditional contracts, early this fall.
At this end of the 2008-09 academic year, the SEC’s TV contracts with CBS, ESPN, Raycom Sports (formerly Lincoln Financial) and Fox Sports Net South expire. Asked which way he’s leaning, Slive said, “I’m standing straight up.”
If he elects to create an SEC TV network, CBS and ESPN would still get the first choice of football games. The SEC channel would get the next tier, likely pushing Raycom out of the negotiations. An SEC channel would also give more exposure to the league’s nonrevenue sports.
“We’ll have a decision early this fall,” Slive said. “I want to get it done so I can go on vacation.”
Slive said watching the Mountain West channel (The Mtn.), the Big Ten Network and the NFL Network helps in the decision. Commissioner Jim Delany faced heated criticism when the Big Ten Network struggled with distribution at its launch.
“But I’ve always said, from day one, that every part of the country has its own culture,” Slive said. “You can’t replicate the Big Ten and the SEC. They’re not exactly the same. In dealing with these issues, we have to take into consideration the distribution and the revenue that are produced by local packages.”
If the SEC can garner 100 percent distribution, the decision would likely be easier for Slive. In that case, an SEC TV channel would give the conference even more exposure and, most importantly, more money.
Huge interest in the SEC was clearly evident Wednesday at the Wynfrey Hotel, cite of SEC Media Days. Hoards of people gathered in the lobby to get a glimpse of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.
“They’re here for Tim?” Florida coach Urban Meyer said, smiling.
The SEC made $43 million from TV games last season, and all but nine of the 48 conference games were broadcast live by its current partners. Slive discussed Wednesday the criteria he’s considering.
“It’s the ability to improve national distribution for all of our sports, enhance the SEC brand nationally, the opportunity to provide a window for non-athletic programming, particularly academic programming, and the ability to maximize multimedia distribution in the new digital world,” he said. “Finally, it’s the ability to increase revenue distribution to our member institutions in support of their broad-based men’s and women’s athletic programs.”
Asked what the SEC’s athletic directors tell him, Slive said, “They say, ‘Mike, we want to have the most lucrative and most widely distributed television contract in the country.’”
Slive can negotiate with the networks without having to discuss NCAA probation in his league, as he promised five years ago to a group of incredulous reporters. Or almost, anyway: Only the Arkansas track program is currently facing probation from the NCAA.
“We were so darn close,” Slive said.
He said the lack of probation among the football programs puts away the notion “that if you didn’t do it a certain way, you couldn’t win. That signifies a cultural shift. Those days are gone. We are good enough and have good enough coaches and student-athletes and great institutions. Those days are in our rearview mirror. That’s what makes me the happiest.”
Now he just needs to find the best TV network package for his schools.