Price Hike Leads ViacomCBS to Drop SEC Football in 2023

ViacomCBS decided to walk away from the high-rated package of SEC college football package after its offer for the rights it has held since 1996 were topped another bidder.

ESPN/ABC is looking to close a deal with the SEC paying more than six times the $55 million per year fee CBS pays under its current contract, according to a report by Sports Business Daily. Fox Sports might also make a presentation to the conference.

CBS, which became part of ViacomCBS after the merger closed earlier this month, reportedly bid about $300 million for the package. CBS’s current agreement ends after the 2023 football season.

“We made a strong and responsible bid. While we've had success with the SEC on CBS, we are instead choosing to aggressively focus on other important strategic priorities moving forward,” CBS Sports said in a statement.

An ESPN representative had no comment.

While linear TV ratings have been eroding, viewership for sports have largely held up over the years. On top of that, having big sports franchises have been an important element in CBS being able to aggressively grow the revenue it gets from distributors in retransmission consent agreements.

ViacomCBS may be keeping some of its powder dry for upcoming negotiations with the National Football League. Those rights expire after the 2020 season.

Without the SEC, ViacomCBS will still have a potent presence in sports. It shares rights with Turner Sports for the NCAA Tournament, and recently reportedly agreed to pay a big increase to keep its PGA golf tournaments and acquired rights to UEFA soccer matches.

There may be changes for the SEC if its games move to ESPN. On CBS, most games appeared in an exclusive 3:30 p.m. window on Saturdays.

ESPN already has a package of SEC football games. With ESPN having all of the games, some appear in overlapping windows or be regionalized. 

ESPN launched the SEC Network on cable in 2014.

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.