What the SEC’s new deal with ABC, ESPN means for Florida Gators football, basketball

By Adam Silverstein
December 10, 2020
What the SEC’s new deal with ABC, ESPN means for Florida Gators football, basketball

Image Credit: ESPN Images

The Southeastern Conference and Disney on Thursday announced a 10-year exclusive broadcast rights agreement that will see SEC football and mens’ basketball games be broadcast across ABC and all ESPN platforms. The deal starts in 2024-25 and runs through the end of the 2033-34 season. As such, CBS is no longer the home of the SEC Game of the Week in football nor the top SEC basketball games over the course of the season.

Though the SEC already had an extensive deal with ESPN, what’s different about this contract is that it includes the conference’s first-tier rights — the aforementioned biggest games played each week. Those were previously held by CBS, which notably aired the SEC Game of the Week at 3:30 p.m. ET every Saturday during the college football season along with an occasional doubleheader or two each season including a noon or 8 p.m. kickoff.

Taking a look at the specifics of the agreement, which will not begin until the 2024 college football season, there could be some notable chances to how Florida Gators fans view their teams.

Note: Specifics were sparse in the press release and subsequent media call, especially considering the deal is four seasons away from starting. The breakdowns below include details as provided by SEC/Disney along with extrapolation by the author.

SEC on ABC: An SEC game will air “regularly on ABC during Saturday afternoons,” according to the release. It is believed that “regularly” means weekly, and it is unknown whether the conference’s traditional 3:30 p.m. time slot is set in stone or able to be adjusted back 30 or 60 minutes depending on the game. (The release states that 4 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. are other options but did not specify whether that was for the ABC game or games on other ESPN networks.)

However, ABC will also choose additional SEC games for Saturday night kickoffs as it sees fit, which means the “best” game of the week may no longer be played starting in the daylight. In fact, an SEC doubleheader may become a regularity. Florida-Georgia, for example, has traditionally been a 3:30 p.m. kickoff. Could that now be played annually at 6 p.m. or 8 p.m. once this deal begins as primetime is generally considered a higher profile window? Will the same be true for the Iron Bowl, Florida-LSU, Alabama-LSU, Auburn-Georgia and other marquee games?

One benefit of this deal is that there is no longer a maximum games restriction in terms of which teams can air on which network over the course of the season. In other words, if the Gators enter as a preseason top five team, they could potentially get marquee billing whether in the afternoon or evening for as many games as ABC decides they deserve. (The SEC Championship Game will also air on ABC.)

Schedules set in advance: Though there was not a promise to set entire seasons in stone — which would be foolish given there are often teams that surprise with their play, whether positively or negatively — ABC/ESPN announced that they plan to set kickoff times and TV assignments as early as possible. There’s a report that could mean has many as half of SEC football games could have kickoff times the summer before the season starts.

What it definitely means is fewer six-day windows and even less occasions where fans learn kickoff times less than two weeks out. That should help fans that are considering whether to travel to games as a start time at noon or 8 p.m. can drastically affect plans.

Pay for some nonconference games: As part of the agreement, the SEC is allowing the networks to place a “limited number of nonconference games” for football (one) and men’s basketball (two) on its ESPN+ streaming service. That begins as soon as next season. This can seen as a positive and a negative. The less favorable side is that fans may need to pay a subscription to see particular games. The more favorable side is Florida will have additional flexibility to schedule those games as they see fit — presumably on days (basketball) and times where more fans will be likely to attend.

This will not affect most games, and it most likely won’t apply to premier programs as much as it will smaller ones, but it could come into play if you want to see a single game like Florida vs. Samford in 2021.

Other key details: Let’s take a look at some additional notes from the press release and as explained on the media call with SEC commissioner Greg Sankey.

» There will be an SEC football game played the Friday after Thanksgiving in the late afternoon on ABC or ESPN. It is unknown whether this is the Egg Bowl, a rotational game or a different annual game. There will not be Friday night games.
» There will be eight new ABC/ESPN national windows for men’s basketball. In other words, perhaps more than two Florida basketball games (one against Kentucky) will be on the broadcast network.
» More SEC nonconference games will appear on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2.
» The TV agreements for women’s basketball, baseball, softball and other sports are separate but also continue through 2033-34.
» ABC will come up with its own presentation for the SEC and will not purchase the iconic SEC on CBS theme music.

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