Winning brings attention in sports. Winning plus tradition, then multiplied by a passionate fan base increases that attention exponentially — sometimes, to the point of oversaturation.
A run of six World Series appearances in eight years and four championships over five years placed the New York Yankees atop Major League Baseball’s pinnacle in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Right behind them were the Boston Red Sox. Their historic rivalry combined with their quality of play and several classic postseason encounters made them easy media darlings.
SEC football is the new Yankees/Red Sox — in more ways than one. Seven combined and consecutive BCS championships vs. six combined World Series titles. Both feature boisterous fan bases eager to assert their teams’ dominance.
And now, college football media is adopting a similar strategy baseball that baseball media enacted in the mid-to-late 2000s by focusing primarily on one
Aaron Boone’s home run, Pedro Martinez’s head-toss of Don Zimmer and Dave Roberts’ stolen base were catalysts for a boom. In turn, baseball media went all-in on the Yankees and Red Sox. Coverage of the two franchises exploded in the mid-2000s, including such excess as a five-game series in 2006, the duration of which was aired nationally.
Johnny Manziel’s exploits, AJ McCarron and Katherine Webb, Nick Saban’s Sith Emperor-like reign and soon, a Disney Corp.-funded, SEC-dedicated network are similar catalysts for the conference.
Much as it has the BCS championship, the SEC dominates media coverage. To the victor goes the spoils.
FOX Sports reportedly jumped on this trend with its unconfirmed hire of polarizing SEC blogger Clay Travis. The Big Lead reports anonymous sources have Travis joining the FOX studio team on college football Saturdays.
Others have made comparisons of Travis to ESPN fixture Bill Simmons, and it’s a logical parallel to draw. Both built substantial followings through an easily relatable Everyman style. And through this lens, each benefited from the strength of their chosen coverage topic. Would Simmons’ passion have resonated or been as pushed by ESPN had his lamentations been for the Kansas City Royals and not the Red Sox?
Likewise, Travis reaches a large, energized fan base. Would his clout be as far-reaching were his work dedicated to the ACC?
Now, I write not to offer a critique of Travis. Opinions on columnists and radio/TV personalities are largely subjective, so fans and detractors can argue the merits of his reported hire and never reach a definitive conclusion.
It’s not subjective, however, to point out that Travis’ work isn’t so much SEC-centric as it is SEC-exclusive. Other conferences exist solely as necessary auxillary players. That makes sense for an SEC audience, but not a national audience.
FOX Sports is partnered with the Pac-12 and Big 12. Though their trophy cases currently pale in comparison to that of the SEC, the Pac-12 and Big 12 play some damn fine football. As such, they made logical flagships for FOX’s initial seasons broadcasting college football to national audiences.
The Pac-12 and Big 12 Conferences have established fan bases and boast top caliber teams. Do they really need an SEC hook to further their appeal?
Alas, there are statistics to suggest that yes, banking on a sport’s front-runner does net results. Red Sox vs. Yankees games garner the most highest TV ratings in MLB, and the SEC frequently won the week during college football.
And, returning to the Simmons analogy, his hijacking of last month’s NBA draft broadcast generated more discussion of this year’s draft than any in recent memory.
SEC’s media takeover is already underway at FOX competitor ESPN. Seven of the 14 pre-bowl season College Gameday broadcasts aired from SEC stops: five were on SEC campuses, one was the neutral field opener between Alabama and Michigan and the last was the SEC championship in Atlanta. Gameday‘s first three stops of 2012 were all at SEC games.
ESPN’s critically acclaimed 30 For 30 has dedicated its last three college football entries to SEC topics: the Alabama-Auburn rivalry (Roll Tide/War Eagle); the racial tension at Ole Miss during its integration (Ghosts of Ole Miss); and Auburn legend Bo Jackson (You Don’t Know Bo). The Worldwide Leader also documents other historic moments in conference history via SEC: Storied.
SEC football is going to become an even more important cog in the ESPN machine after the conference’s network launches. Disney Corp. has a vested interest in its success as sole proprietor of the SEC Network.
In other words, America: Brace yourself for a lot of Paul Finebaum.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this very site, SaturdayBlitz.com, has dedicated more words to SEC teams than any other conference. The two most covered topics are the Alabama Crimson Tide and LSU Tigers, with the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs not far behind. The two most read stories in site history detailed South Carolina Gamecocks running back Marcus Lattimore’s knee injury and Butch Jones’ recruiting.
Thus, when I write that winning yields more attention, it’s not speculation. To borrow a phrase from Chris Farley in Billy Madison, “I know from experience, dude. If you know what I mean.”