Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Butchering the Past, SEC Scheduling Edition

I have a fairly lengthy column up at SB Nation, complaining about the possible end of Auburn-Georgia and Alabama-Tennessee as annual events.  I start with an extended analogy to the antebellum yeoman farmers who wanted to avoid having to use currency or work for larger landholders and then end with a gripe about the SEC emphasizing short-term profits over anything else:

In sum, the SEC has been so thoroughly sucked into the vortex of being a quasi-pro sport that short-term revenue maximization is now the name of the game. The changes to the conference in the 90s - splitting into divisions and joining a two-team playoff - proved to be beneficial in getting the league where it is today, but the decision in the works to jettison two of the SEC's best rivalries is unlikely to have any such upsides. Aside from the facts that the decision has angered the league's core consumers and could turn them against the new arrivals ("thanks, Mizzou, you cost us the Deep South's oldest rivalry and the Third Saturday in October"), the change will upset the rhythm of the season and ever so slightly diminish the quality of the TV product. The SEC is losing a little of its soul with this decision, and its soul is part of what makes the conference so profitable.

I wonder about whether the college football ticket market is a bit of a bubble waiting to pop.  One of the driving forces here is that teams want to keep the right to schedule as many home games against lesser opposition as they can possibly shovel onto the slate.  A nine-game conference schedule would solve the scheduling issue created by SEC expansion, but that would leave one less spot for the New Mexico States and Furmans of the world.  I seriously wonder about Georgia fans who would normally pay thousands of dollars for season tickets looking at their athletic director and saying “you sacrificed the Auburn game, which is often the best game on the home schedule, in order to preserve a glorified scrimmage.  Screw you, I’ll buy tickets to the games that I really want to attend on Stubhub.”  Demand for season tickets looks solid right now, but it would not surprise me in the least to see it soften in the next 5-10 years if the SEC maintains its current course.


Anonymous said...

The trifecta of never playing Florida at home, always having 3 cupcake out-of-conference games, and not playing Auburn every year is going to produce some really bad home schedules going forward.

This may be the last year I get season tickets. I'm already regretting making my donation b/c of the poor home schedule.

Anonymous said...

I think two things:

1) you're probably right. Schools are going to lose a fair amount season ticket purchasers, and they'll be able to charge less for what they sell. That's always going to be limited by the tying arrangement and minimax regret. The one year Tony Tiger doesn't re-up for his LSU season tickets is the year they win their first ten and have the Game of the Year against somebody in November, in Baton Rouge, and tickets are going for $2000/piece.

2) Schools won't care. The future of the sport is the easy (low risk) money from TV.