Continued SEC football popularity results in impending end of 'SEC on CBS' telecasts

CBS sideline reporter Jamie Erdahl interviews Georgia football coach Kirby Smart after his Bulldogs topped Florida 24-17 in early November. / Georgia photo by Chamberlain Smith

CBS has become a victim of its own success when it comes to televising Southeastern Conference football.

The "SEC on CBS" telecasts for the 2019 season were up a robust 24% from last year, with each broadcast averaging 7.1 million viewers, the highest average for the "SEC on CBS" package that began in 1996. This season's schedule was bolstered by Notre Dame's first visit to Georgia's Sanford Stadium in late September and by dizzying LSU-Alabama and Auburn-Alabama shootouts last month.

LSU's 46-41 triumph in Tuscaloosa drew a 9.7 rating and had 16.64 million viewers.

The SEC and CBS announced in August 2008 a 15-year extension agreement that started with the 2009 season and runs through the 2023 season, but CBS announced this weekend that it has pulled out of the bidding process for another deal. CBS has been paying $55 million annually for the right to televise the best SEC game each Saturday, which has included annual rivalries such as Georgia-Florida and the conference championship game on the first weekend of December.

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

Sports Business Daily was the first to report the parting of ways, adding that CBS offered $300 million annually to continue but that ESPN/ABC is expected to snag SEC football games in 2024 and beyond for a cost of at least $330 million a year. Such a deal would result in each SEC school receiving at least $65 million or even $70 million annually in revenue distribution.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey revealed this past February that each of the league's 14 institutions received $43.1 million for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

The "SEC on CBS" has been college football's most-watched television package since 2009, when the league was in the midst of winning seven consecutive national championships by four schools - Florida (2006, '08), LSU (2007), Alabama (2009, '11, '12) and Auburn (2010). Marquee players such as Tim Tebow and Cam Newton added to the rise in popularity of the telecasts, as did the unprecedented run of Alabama coach Nick Saban.

Memorable games contributed as well, with Auburn's 34-28 upset of Alabama in the "Kick Six" thriller of 2013 reeling in an 11.8 rating in the final half-hour, which set a record at that time for the highest-rated segment of a regular-season college football contest.

By linking with ESPN/ABC, which oversees the SEC Network that was launched in 2014, the SEC will have its games distributed by one entity. CBS still will televise the Army-Navy game and will move forward investing in existing staples such as Sunday NFL telecasts, the NCAA men's basketball tournament, and an enhanced golf schedule that is topped each year by the Masters.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.