Friday, July 18, 2014

SEC columnists are jealous of the Big Ten?

Last May, the SEC announced it would start its own conference channel, the SEC Network (SECN), following in the footsteps of the Big Ten (B1G), Midwest Conference (MWC) and the Pac-12 (P12).  The channel is set to launch in about one month on August 14, 2014 and has currently secured deals with several major cable/satellite providers including U-Verse, Dish Network and most recently, Cox.  Every time another major provider signs on, there are updates about the number of subscribers who will have the SECN available to them.  Constantly updating this running tally makes sense, except there’s one thing that always seems to be mentioned with the tally: the number of subscribers the Big Ten Network (BTN) had at launch.  Why?

Example 1:  When it was announced on July 9th that Cox Cable had signed on to carry the SECN, Barrett Sallee (CFB writer on Bleacher Report, yes I know…) tweetedThe addition of Cox brings the @SECNetwork to around 26 million homes. The Big Ten Network had 16 million the day it launched.” Interesting.

Example 2:  Brandon Marcello (Auburn beat writer for, in an article from July 11thabout the SECN in general and its experience in gaining carriage agreements, wroteThe SEC Network has secured about 26 million homes so far, surpassing the 14 million homes the Big Ten Network secured when it launched in 2007. More announcements are likely on the way…”.  Notice that both statements are almost identical except that Marcello somehow incorrectly states the number of homes BTN was available to at launch as 14 million (link showing correct # of subscribers at launch).  (Editor’s Note: I reached out to him on Twitter regarding this error but have not received a response).  Again, interesting.

So this begs the question.  Why are SEC-centered college football writers constantly comparing the number of subscribers the SECN is currently available to (leading up to its launch) to the number that BTN was available to at its launch?  Are they jealous?  Are they secretly obsessed with the B1G?  Both?  I honestly don’t know, but it seems extremely peculiar considering that the circumstances surrounding the launch of both networks are hardly similar.

*BTN was launched in 2007 while the SECN is being launched in 2014 in a completely different media and broadcast landscape
*BTN was the first tv channel of a major FBS conference (the MWC launched a tv network a year earlier but its carriage was very low before shutting down in 2012) while SECN will be the third major conference tv channel (BTN 1st in 2007, Pac-12 Network (P12N) 2nd in 2012)
*BTN had Fox Sports backing it (which at the time had only a minimal interest in CFB by televising the BCS games and the Cotton Bowl) while the SECN has the full weight of ESPN (i.e. Disney) behind it.

So given those 3 major differences, it makes absolutely no sense to repeatedly compare the number of subscribers SECN will have at launch to the number that BTN had.  Additionally, the number of cable & satellite subscribers is not constant, similar to how inflation changes the value of a dollar over time.  So just giving raw subscriber totals without adjusting for overall subscription levels is misleading as well (i.e. there were ~ 96 million cable + satellite subscribers in 2007, but ~ 100 million subscribers in 2014, ).  Therefore, anyone who compares the number of possible SECN subscribers at its launch to the number of possible subscribers BTN had at launch is either dishonest or foolish.  Or both.
Which brings me back to Barrett Sallee.  In response to several people calling out his misleading post on Twitter, he said "Just putting into perspective the success of SEC Networkpre-launch..." and "Just putting a little perspective on it..."  To quote Joe Biden "Are you joking? Is this a joke?"  Here you have a guy who cited two absolute figures (26 million & 16 million) without accounting for any of the multitude of factors listed above which make the situations completely different (and frankly incomparable).  Then when called out on it, he says that he is offering perspective.  Someone please cue up Borat ***NOT***.  He's doing the exact opposite of "putting a little perspective on it".  First, the BTN launch subscriber numbers shouldn't even be cited anywhere in relation to the SECN numbers unless you were doing a historical comparison with subscriber numbers of ALL conference networks that have launched over the years.  Second, if they are cited, they need to be prefaced with statements like "completely different time 7 years ago," or "completely different media landscape 7 years ago" or "first of its kind tv network for a major conference".  In other words, Barrett Sallee is doing the exact opposite of putting the numbers in perspective by choosing to arbitrarily compare the SECN to BTN instead of say, to the P12N.  The launch of the P12N would be a much more analogous situation to the launch of the SECN since it only launched two years ago and came along after it was proven that a television network devoted solely to a major college athletic conference could survive (and be profitable).  Yet, not a single article/tweet/story compares the SECN to the P12N.  Why?