TV plays one of the most important roles in college sport, providing access to games to people across the country who otherwise would not be able to watch their favourite teams. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, college sport
has relied on the media to broadcast the game to those who couldn’t attend in person – first through radio, then TV. As early as the 1950s, teams have signed agreements with television networks, ensuring coverage of their games, which have grown in cost over the past sixty years.
Networks like Fox, CBS and ESPN have become favourites of various collegiate conferences across the US, broadcasting games that regularly attract thousands of viewers. For example, ESPN’s broadcast of the College Football Playoff National Championship in January 2016, which saw Alabama secure a 45-50 victory over Clemson, brought in a massive 26.1 million viewers – making it the most watched cable program since the CFP National Championship, which was shown exactly a year before. Its also worth noting that, in the US, attention can be focused more on college teams – which are amateur – than the equivalent professional team, be it NBA, MLS, NFL or MLB. While only 8.3m tuned in to the first round of the NFL draft, when it was shown on ESPN, in 2016; 18.6 million Americans watch Alabama defeat Michigan State 38-0 on New Years Eve 2015.
As TV networks sign contracts with conferences, rather than individual teams, this means that bigger, more successful conferences can often be pursued by channels, offering significant amounts of money in a bid to win the rights for their games. In 2011, Pac-12 signed a massive deal with ESPN
/Fox, measuring $3 billion over 12 years and estimated to rake in $250 million in revenue, annually. This deal is the largest of its kind for any conference in the states, ever, and ensured that each conference member – including UCLA, Berkeley
– will earn around $21 million a year. However, the fairness of this can be questioned. Does the fact major conferences are more actively sought after mean that smaller school in equally smaller conferences are at a disadvantage? River States Conference, taking in schools in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, receives no television coverage at all, and in turn, does not make any revenue off of TV deals – something which greatly affects the livelihood of the program and of the school in general.
It’s also important to note the amount of money, in revenue, that these conferences bring in. The Southeastern Conference
(SEC) is the most profitable conference in college sport right now, bringing in a total of $476 million in revenue - $112m coming from Bowl games and $17m from the NCAA tournament. Along with this, the SEC heavily cashed in on their TV deal – raking in a huge sum of 347 million dollars on television coverage; accounting for a massive 23% of the $1.3 billion generated in TV money alone in the US. This meant each member school - Kentucky, Texas A&M and Alabama among others - pocketed $34 million.
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