Kentucky football: new SEC-ESPN deal will give Kentucky more tv exposure

Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Josh Ali: Arden Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Josh Ali: Arden Barnes-USA TODAY Sports /

The new Southeastern Conference and ESPN agreement is a big exposure win for Kentucky football.

While the basketball team doesn’t worry about prime time games the Kentucky football team and the rest of the SEC will reap rewards with the new 10-year deal announced between the league and ESPN. The agreement set to begin in 2024-25 means ESPN and ABC will have exclusive rights to broadcast all SEC football and basketball games.

Under the Walt Disney umbrella, the network has pried the contract away from CBS sports who has been its flag bearer.

Week in and week out Wildcat fans wondered what oddball time slot they would draw and almost always on the SEC Network since they seldom ever would appear on CBS. Kentucky fans got used to noon and 2 pm kickoffs. Yet nothing is cooler than tailgating in the parking lot outside of Commonwealth Stadium for those 7:30 kickoffs.

Well, more of those will be available with this deal.

The new First Tier rights agreement puts all SEC media rights under The Walt Disney Company canopy, giving the SEC exposure on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN+, SEC Network, and SEC Network+. Of course, those plus channels come with a subscription price tag but fans I assume will pay the extra dollars.

CBS has held the SEC contract since 1996 and even renewed that in 2008 with a 15-year deal. But what was brewing was the 2008 $2 billion deal that ESPN signed as well that same year to start broadcasting games which led to the launch of the SEC Network in 2013.

SEC teams of the south have loved that afternoon primetime slot on CBS for years, but that went mostly to the big dawgs of the league in Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Georgia, and Florida. Other league members would occasionally sneak into one of these games but normally against the power teams.

That will remain for the next four years but then the changes begin. However, CBS may want to cash out early depending on if ESPN wants to move faster and toss them some funds.

What interests us fans, even more, is increased exposure and time slots with many being announced weeks if not months in advance. Current scheduling agreements mean waiting till the week before when the SEC announces them to see what time our Cats are playing.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey announced the agreement on Thursday.

"“This is a significant day for the Southeastern Conference and for the future of our member institutions. Our agreement with ESPN will greatly enhance our ability to support our student-athletes in the years ahead and to further enrich the game day experience for SEC fans around the world,”"

Also, note that means the SEC will now have the ABC Saturday night prime time game of the week many times that goes to ACC schools. Here’s hoping Kentucky can build on its product and be one of the desired teams ABC is clamoring to showcase. If not there are more choices over on the ESPN’s and SEC Networks.

What may be the biggest win in all of this besides the huge checks that ESPN will be writing the SEC and its member schools is simply one word – recruiting.

With a conference that boasts the slogan “SEC-it just means more.” that truly does mean even more.

Now kids across the nation can play on Friday night and then sit around all day on Saturday and watch all the SEC plays on a variety of networks. While it won’t level the playing field it certainly can narrow the gap.

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops and Vince Marrow already can close the deal in states like Ohio, Georgia, and Florida but now even more doors open when kids can see the Wildcats every week and not just regionally.

The revenue-sharing pie just got richer for all and that means better pay for coaches, bigger recruiting budgets, and continue to upgrade the facilities. The stadium itself is tired and in need of more upgrades including getting more chairbacks and disposing of the uncomfortable metal bleachers and better wifi.

Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart can draw all that up in his annual budget and capital expense projects.

For now, simply speaking from the SEC media release the agreement highlights are:

  • Regular SEC Football Game on ABC on Saturday Afternoons
  • Additional football games on ABC Saturday Nights
  • SEC Football Championship Game on ABC
  • Introduction of a modernized, more fan-friendly scheduling process, with many game windows, solidified earlier while providing flexibility to maximize the exposure of the Conference’s biggest games
  • More marquee men’s basketball games on ABC or ESPN
  • Additional non-conference men’s basketball games on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2
  • Beginning with the 2021-22 season, the right to place a limited number of non-conference football and men’s basketball games on ESPN+ will allow schools autonomy to determine start times

Another option coming next year is the right for ESPN to move a limited number of non-conference games in football and men’s basketball to ESPN+. One added benefit of a game appearing on ESPN+ is that the home school gets to choose the start time.

ESPN+ in just two years has grown to 10.3 million subscribers who pay $5.99 per month or $49.99 annually.

Oh never fear basketball fans this also means more outlets for you to watch the Cats on the hardwood. Although as the winningest NCAA basketball program Kentucky doesn’t worry about visibility for their games.

One added bonus for basketball is the option to appear on any of the eight networks that also will include ABC.

While these are still off in the distance this is welcome news to Kentucky and its SEC brethren.