ESPN Reaches 10-Year Deal With Southeastern Conference; ABC To Carry Key Games In 2024 As Some Also Head To ESPN+

LSU's college football team celebrating its national title last January. AP

ESPN has reached a 10-year deal with the Southeastern Conference, a major college football power and a linchpin of its linear ratings and streaming ambitions.

The Disney sports division has a decades-old relationship with the conference. Games will continue to air on ESPN and its portfolio of networks, but will also add key games to ABC as well as subscription streaming service ESPN+.

Starting in 2024, ABC will air key Saturday afternoon matchups — some of the most-watched sporting events on the calendar — and also some primetime games and the SEC Championship game.

“Our underlying goal is to acquire, create and distribute the best sports content, and to do so in a way that serves fans, maximizes consumption and best positions our business to continue being the leader in an evolving sports media environment,” ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro said during Disney’s sprawling investor day Thursday. The SEC deal, he said, is a prime example.

Beginning in 2021, select games will stream on ESPN+. Under the 10-year deal, ESPN+ can stream one non-conference football game and two non-conference men’s basketball games per SEC school each season. All together, ESPN+ will carry up to 14 non-conference football games and up to 20 non-conference men’s basketball games annually.

The deal takes only a small step toward the unbundling of sports that some have predicted was imminent. Sports — notably college football and the NFL — are keeping the TV bundle together, so the prospects of them taking a business with more than 80 million paying households and migrating it to streaming was always unlikely.

The ABC element continues a years-long effort to leverage the broadcast network in select situations where the overall audience for sports can be expanded. The NBA Finals, for example, have long aired on ABC.

The SEC — a partner with ESPN in a dedicated network — features perennial powers like LSU, Alabama and Auburn. It is one of the “Power Five” conferences whose schools feed into the College Football Playoff, a four-team tournament in January that has been a potent ratings draw.

CAA affiliate Evolution Media Capital advised the SEC on the deal.

This article was printed from