What SEC expansion might mean for South Carolina’s bottom line

·4 min read

The Southeastern Conferences member institutions are slated for a major pay raise.

With the additions of Oklahoma and Texas on the horizon following a wild week-plus of seismic shifts in college football, the SEC should see another significant jump in how its schools make money in the not-so-distant future.

“This the money play,” Tom Regan, an expert on the economic impact of sports at the University of South Carolina, told The State on Wednesday. “(Texas and Oklahoma) know in the long term the SEC is where the bigger dollars are going to be.”

The “bigger dollars” Regan referenced are in the lucrative television rights deal the SEC and ESPN recently agreed on that’s set to begin in 2025. The contract is reportedly worth $3 billion over its life and will pay the conference $300 million annually. The SEC’s current deal with CBS pays $55 million per year for its broadcasting rights.

With the new deal in tow shortly, each SEC team stands to receive a major raise from the annual media rights pie. Under the current structure, that piece amounted to $45.5 million in the fiscal year that concluded on Aug. 30, 2020 according to a report from USA Today.

Given the massive interest Oklahoma and Texas would bring to the league (take Texas’ Longhorn Network as a prime example), the general interest in SEC football stands to benefit from those additions while introducing a new slate of TV markets into its footprint.

“When you talk about Austin, Texas it’s not the largest media market — it’s not Chicago, it’s not a Houston or whatever,” Regan explained. “But in that Oklahoma region, because of the radio networks that they have and the draw that they have coming out of Oklahoma, that’s a significant add to the SEC because you break into another Midwestern (region).”

The additions of Texas and Oklahoma also stand to have a near-immediate impact on the economics of Columbia.

According to research done by Regan as part of an economic impact study regarding South Carolina athletics and the Columbia metropolitan area during the 2013-14 school year, Gamecocks athletic events had a nearly $200 million effect on the region over that span (or nearly $230 million in 2021 when adjusted for inflation).

Regan, a sport and entertainment management professor at USC, told The State that a home game against either Texas or Oklahoma at Williams-Brice Stadium could bring as much as $7 million to $8 million to the local economy given their ardent supporters.

“It’s definitely going to help because when teams like that — they’re like Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee — they travel,” he said. “Texas A&M, when they play here, they travel. (Oklahoma and Texas) are going to bring 10,000 strong into Colombia.”

“It’s not just going to be a Columbia deal — it’s going to be a state deal,” he continued. “(Opposing fans) are going to come in for the game. They’ll go down to the coast. They’ll go down to Charleston. And you’ll see in the studies that I’ve done for South Carolina, that’s what these out-of-town fans do.”

From a conference-wide perspective, there are immediate downsides for a program like South Carolina in adding schools with the financial muscle of Texas and Oklahoma.

The South Carolina athletic department spent the 10th-most money of any SEC school not including Vanderbilt during the 2018-19 school year, according to USA Today’s database on spending in college athletics.. It also earned the ninth-most revenue of league schools over that same time frame.

Texas, by contrast, led the nation in athletic department revenue in 2018-19 at more than $223 million — almost 63% more than South Carolina earned on the whole over that span.

Oklahoma earned $163 million in revenue during the 2018-19 school year, but still out-earned USC by roughly $23 million.

“I don’t know why they would want to leave,” former USC head coach Steve Spurrier quipped of Texas and Oklahoma last week ahead of his induction into the South Carolina Football Hall of Fame. “Oklahoma gets in that final four winning the Big 12 every year, and I believe I’d stay there and keep winning the Big 12.”

Texas and Oklahoma’s additions to the SEC are now a matter of when, not if. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey released a statement on Tuesday confirming both schools had asked the league to be added for the 2025 season — though it’s largely expected they’ll join sooner.

The Longhorns’ and Sooners’ eventual moves are a massive money grab that will — and already has — reverberate around college football. This time is different than the last round of realignment, though. This time, the blue bloods are getting involved and the cash at stake is enough to match the gross domestic product of most small countries.

“When we look back on it you’re going to these two schools are taking the power that they have financially and everything else to align with the number one conference in the country,” Regan said. “Therefore, they’re moving the ball and when we look back on this at five years, we’re going to see this is going to be a huge move.”

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