SBD/May 3, 2013/Media

SEC, ESPN Officially Unveil SEC Network That Will Debut In Time For '14-15 Academic Year

The SEC and ESPN on Thursday officially announced the "formation of the SEC Network, which is scheduled to launch in August 2014," according to David Paschall of the CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS. The network will be "based in Charlotte and will televise 1,000 live sporting events each year, with 450 on the network and the other 550 distributed digitally." As many as "45 football games will be shown on the network, including three every Saturday." CBS will "continue to get the first pick of SEC football games each Saturday, and then a content board will make decisions on which games will be shown via ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and the SEC Network." CBS no longer will "have an exclusive window" from 3:30-7:00pm ET, "so the SEC Network will have a lunchtime kickoff, a mid-afternoon kickoff and an evening kickoff each week." More than "100 men's basketball games will be shown annually on the SEC Network, as well as 75 baseball games and 60 women's basketball games." There will "be championship coverage for all 21 sports in which the league competes." ESPN plans to "carry the SEC Network as a similar service as ESPN within the 11-state league footprint and as a similar service to ESPNU outside the footprint" (CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS, 5/3). In Birmingham, Jon Solomon notes the SEC "bought back third-tier TV rights from IMG College, Learfield Sports and CBS Collegiate Sports Properties, the rights-holders of the SEC's 14 schools," in order to start the channel. Those rights now will "air on the network." Florida AD and SEC TV Chair Jeremy Foley said, "Florida had its own kind of cable network in the state of Florida. We had 6 million homes with SunSports and it's been wonderful for us. But the world marches on" (BIRMINGHAM NEWS, 5/3).

DELVING INTO DEAL DETAILS: In K.C., Terez Paylor notes though the financial details of the new venture with ESPN are unknown, SEC schools received about $20M from the conference last year, and "industry analysts have reported the conference will be in a position to distribute" as much as $35M per school "in two years once the new television deals are cemented." One other thing that "remains unclear is how much of the network the SEC will actually own" (K.C. STAR, 5/3). Georgia AD Greg McGarity said that he "hasn’t seen revenue or profit projections." But he said, "What everyone is banking on is that we both win, ESPN and the SEC. What the number is, no one knows, but I think it has the potential to be really, really positive" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 5/3). In South Carolina, Josh Kendall notes the "true monetary value of the network won't be known until all of its distribution agreements are signed, and even then it could be hard to calculate separate from the SEC's overall deal with ESPN" (Columbia STATE, 5/3).

RIGHTS DEAL EXTENDED: In N.Y., Richard Sandomir reports as part of the network's creation, ESPN extended its deal with the SEC through '34, the "latest example of ESPN's desire to lock up rights for as long as possible to provide continuity for its businesses and to keep the programming from rivals." ESPN President John Skipper said, "There's a lot of discussion about new competitors for ESPN, and I'm going to invite all my competitors to take out the actuarial tables and look at the year 2034. I believe it's the longest agreement in all of sports." Sandomir notes an SEC channel originally was "discussed during the talks" that led to the SEC's '08 deals with ESPN and CBS. But a "provision for a 'look-in' in the ESPN contract allowed talks to resume." SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said, "As time went on, we watched the evolution of technology and other events, and we knew that we were going to find a way to enhance what we had already done" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/3).

CARRIAGE CAMPAIGN UNDERWAY
: The BIRMINGHAM NEWS' Solomon reports the "push has begun for SEC fans to pressure cable, satellite and telco providers to air the SEC Network." The official SEC website "includes a Frequently Asked Questions referral encouraging fans to call their provider and provide contact information at GetSECNetwork.com." Although past network deals "suggest some bumpy roads ahead," Skipper believes these talks "will be different." ESPN announced that it has an "agreement with AT&T U-verse, which is in approximately 5 million homes, but the "tougher negotiations lie ahead." SEC and ESPN officials "won't say how much they're seeking in subscriber fees." An SI.com report indicated that the Big Ten Network "earns about a dime per month for cable subscribers outside the Big Ten states and about $1.10 a month inside the Big Ten footprint." Several media analysts "expect similar sub fees for the SEC." Skipper did say that the SEC Network will "not be sold as a bundle with other Walt Disney channels" (BIRMINGHAM NEWS, 5/3). ESPN Senior VP/Programming Justin Connolly, who will oversee the network, said of the effort to secure cable providers, "We have 16 months to have those conversations. We feel good about the opportunities that exist on that horizon" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/2).

A CALCULATED MOVE: In Baton Rouge, Scott Rabalais writes while the SEC "looked for a while like it was falling behind the Big Ten and Pac-12" as those conferences launched their own networks, it was "really biding its time." Rabalais: "Waiting to analyze the mistakes others made, figuring out which missteps to avoid." LSU AD Joe Alleva said, "ESPN has everything in place. They've got all the fixed costs associated with starting a network. The Big Ten had to make a huge investment in cameras and trucks. We didn't have any of that. We're tied in with a partner that is already established and will have leverage when they go out and sell the network" (Baton Rouge ADVOCATE, 5/3). In Nashville, David Climer notes the Big Ten Network "suffered through growing pains including distribution via different cable systems." And the Pac-12 Network, which launched last August, is "not available on DirecTV." The SEC "should be able to avoid similar problems" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 5/3). Meanwhile, Slive said that the SEC "likely would have created" its own network "even if it didn't add Texas A&M and Missouri" last year. The BIRMINGHAM NEWS' Solomon noted getting into the states of Texas and Missouri "meant the SEC's geographic footprint expanded by about 34 million people." But Slive suggested that the network was "happening anyway." Texas A&M AD Eric Hyman, who was at South Carolina when SEC Network talks first began years ago, "agreed a 12-member network could have happened." Hyman: "But Missouri and Texas A&M enhances it" (AL.com, 5/2).

FILLING IN THE SCHEDULE: Solomon wrote under the header, "What Goes On The SEC Network?" Slive "mentioned programming such as recruiting shows, pro days, ESPN-produced 'SEC Storied' documentaries, and 'sophisticated interview shows' not necessarily limited to athletics." Auburn President Jay Gogue said that he "wants academic stories on the network." Connolly "envisions programming such as studio news and analysis shows, tailgating shows, classic games, and profiles on SEC athletes, personalities and the league's history." The net will "not air high school games" (AL.com, 5/2). In Mississippi, Hugh Kellenberger notes the net also will "feature original programming, some of which will be created by the schools themselves" (Jackson CLARION-LEDGER, 5/3). ESPN's Rece Davis noted in exchange for the "money, the exposure and all the positive it generates for the fans," the creation of the SEC Network "creates more demands" for coaches and players. It also "violates that circle of trust or that wall that they build between themselves and the outside.” ESPN’s Andre Ware noted coaches often are "superstitious, so they don't want to give in to change easily." Some coaches are "not going to want to allow you to see what they do in offseason programs; all the access that’ll be asked.” But there will be some coaches who will “welcome this with open arms.” Davis said coaches building programs "will open their doors a little wider, the others will be judicious if their programs are already built” (“College Football Live,” ESPN, 5/2).

SLIVE'S LEGACY: CBSSPORTS.com's Tony Barnhart wrote Slive "cemented his legacy as one of the impactful commissioners in the history of college athletics with Thursday’s announcement." Univ. of Tennessee AD Dave Hart said, "For all that Mike Slive has done up to this point -- and it’s been remarkable -- this will be his legacy. He has put this conference on a sound financial footing for generations to come." Slive took over for Roy Kramer in June '02, and there were a "lot of people who wondered what was left for him to do." Barnhart: "Now we know." Kentucky men's basketball coach John Calipari said, "Mike listens. He leads and then he builds a consensus. You may not always agree with him but there is never any doubt that he has the best interest of the conference in mind." South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier added, "Just when you think the SEC can’t get any bigger or better then something like this comes along. You’ve got to give Commissioner Slive a lot of credit for that." Barnhart noted the 72-year-old Slive has stated that he wants to remain as commissioner for "'a couple more years' to complete work on several things he wanted to do." He "became a grandfather for the first time last June," so it will be "interesting to see how much longer he will want to put in the hours it takes to stay on top of the most powerful conference in college athletics" (CBSSPORTS.com, 5/2).
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