ESPN, While Laying Off Hundreds, Inks Mammoth Contract With SEC Football

Just one month after ESPN announced it will lay off hundreds of workers because of financial difficulties, the TV sports network boasted a huge contract to land one college football conference's game of the week.

Disney, which owns ESPN, stated Thursday night that it will become home to the Southeastern Conference's (SEC) football game of the week, with a 10-year contract beginning in 2024.

The SEC game of the week and SEC championship game will move from CBS to ABC. Also next year, ESPN has the right to move a limited number of football and men's basketball games to ESPN+.

The CBS contract with the SEC was worth about $55 million per season. The new contract with Disney will be worth more than $300 million per year.

Game changer. SEC's No. 1 game goes from CBS to ABC in 2024. SEC has long felt that its contract with CBS was undervalued at about $55 million per year. This contract will be north of $300 million per year.

— Tony Barnhart (@MrCFB) December 10, 2020

CBS has held the rights to the SEC game of the week since the two entities agreed to a contract in 1996. The SEC has since become the premiere conference in all of college football, with the national champion coming from the SEC 11 of the last 17 years. There has been an SEC team in the national championship game every year since 2006, with the exception of 2014 (Ohio State vs. Oregon).

Twice there has been a championship game (2011 LSU vs Alabama, 2018 Georgia vs Alabama) with two SEC teams playing each other.

Under the current contract, CBS gets the SEC game of the week in the 3:30 p.m. ET slot every week during the regular season, and it gets one prime time game every year. After CBS selects its game of the week, ESPN then schedules the next few favorable games, and the remainder of games are shown on the ESPN-owned SEC Network.

It's uncertain of the CBS college football music, which is widely popular and recognizable, is part of the deal.

SEC Football on ESPN
A detailed view of the SEC logo during a game between the South Carolina Gamecocks and the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium on October 10, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

All of this is happening while ESPN is laying off 300 more workers and not filling 200 positions, as announced last month. The massive layoffs are a product of a two-pronged process.

The first was widespread cord-cutting by viewers, meaning less people were opting for sports packages and networks in their plans. It could also mean people are doing away with traditional cable and satellite companies in lieu of select online streaming services. ESPN had nearly 100 million subscribers in 2013, and that has dipped to about 83 million subscribers now.

Secondly, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancelation of hundreds of live, televised sporting events, most by ESPN, which caused a dramatic drop in revenue.

The network, in April, began asking some of its higher-paid commentators and executives to take pay cuts to accommodate a modified budget. Then, layoffs eventually began.

"The pandemic's significant impact on our business clearly accelerated those forward-looking discussions," ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro said, according to the Washington Post. "In the short term, we enacted various steps like executive and talent salary reductions, furloughs and budget cuts, and we implemented innovative operations and production approaches, all in an effort to weather the covid storm."

ESPN has laid off about 5,000 employees since 2015, when the Disney-owned network began layoffs by the hundreds. The layoffs have hit all across the spectrum of the worldwide sports leader, from journalists to on-air personalities to those working the cameras and other behind-the-scenes functions.

ESPN is not the only company to get hit hard by layoffs. Fox Sports and NBC Sports also had furloughs because of the lack of live sports during the pandemic.