SBD/August 14, 2014/Media

SEC Network To Launch Tonight With Three-Hour News Show From All 14 Campuses

SEC Network is available in about 60 million U.S. households at its debut
The SEC Network launches tonight at 6:00pm ET with a three-hour "SEC Now," which will be the net's signature news show. The program will air with 21 anchors, reporters and analysts in studio and reporting live from the 14 SEC school campuses. SEC alums Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Dara Torres, Joe Namath and Shaquille O'Neal will be among 31 voices in an opening essay for the network as it debuts in around 60 million U.S. homes (THE DAILY). In South Carolina, Neil White notes ESPN officials are "ecstatic" about the SEC Network distribution "after negotiating a series of agreements with the nation’s cable television providers in a tight time frame." ESPN Senior VP/College Networks Justin Connolly said, "We’ve exceeded any rational expectations that could be out there. To have more distribution than, arguably, any other new cable television network -- forget about sports cable television network -- is significant." That so many cable operators picked up the network was "driven in part by social media campaigns organized by SEC fans to pressure them." With football season near, fans of the various schools "wanted to make sure they weren’t left out when the network kicked things off." Connolly said that fans are the "force behind the start-up." Now the SEC Network "must do its part to keep them happy" (Columbia STATE, 8/14). In Texas, Robert Cessna noted the net's Brent Musburger, Paul Finebaum, Greg McElroy and Booger McFarland will help "kick off the first show," joining "SEC Now" hosts Dari Nowkhah and Maria Taylor in studio. The net will also "have someone at each of the 14 schools" (Bryan-College Station EAGLE, 8/13). In Mississippi, Brandon Walker noted the net's inaugural live feed tonight will "coincide with a late afternoon practice" for Mississippi State football. A broadcast also is "planned from MSU's workout" as part of a "conference-wide plan to launch the network." MSU AD Scott Stricklin said, "They're going to jump around to 14 campuses, and it just so happens we're going to be practicing. I think it will be compelling programming. I think it is a great example of the content the network is going to have" (CDISPATCH.com, 8/11).

INITIAL INVESTMENTS: SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Michael Smith writes what viewers "won’t fully comprehend right away is the effort and expense required across 14 campuses to get ready" for the SEC Net's launch. Schools cumulatively have spent $25-30M on their campuses -- ranging from $700,000 at Florida to $7M at Arkansas -- "so they can produce events for the network at TV quality." Each school will "have the capability to produce two events at once, whether through multiple control rooms or a single control room plus a flypack, which is a mobile control room and can be set up at the venue." Some additional expenses, like bureau cameras, were "mandatory for all 14 schools." ESPN "paid for the camera and installation, while the schools paid the expense of constructing the room and making sure it’s connected by fiber to the control room" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 8/11 issue). The ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION notes Tennessee is constructing a $10M studio in the first floor of its Brenda Lawson Athletic Center. UT Senior Associate AD/Communications Jimmy Stanton said that the studio "is privately funded and will have other university uses beyond the SEC Network, such as training students in television production." Auburn's athletic department had to use $5M "from its financial reserves, partly to add two control rooms after deciding its one control room at Jordan-Hare Stadium wasn't sufficient" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 8/14). In Alabama, Alex Byington notes Auburn’s ability to "put on an ESPN-style production, with the capacity to produce multiple events or programs across both television and digital platforms, is still a few months from being a reality" (OPELIKA-AUBURN NEWS, 8/14).

MISSION STATEMENT: ESPN Senior Dir of College Sports Programming Dan Margulis said "SEC Now" will feature news reports, but the net's job "is to report the news, not necessarily to break it." He said, "It's an important balance for a conference network. You don't want to run from things, but it's not necessarily our job to do (an) investigative program. That's the job of other ESPN networks" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 8/14). In Tampa, Antonya English asks, "What will be the network's role in letting SEC fans know when their schools find themselves in trouble?" Connolly: "We're not going to have the news infrastructure that ESPN has, and we're not going to do a whole lot of investigative journalism. We are going to report when something happens and let fans know. I think that's critical if we're to maintain editorial integrity and credibility with fans" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 8/14). In Florida, Pat Dooley wrote of the SEC Net launch, "Color me less than enthused." It is "difficult to believe I'm going to learn a lot about the SEC when it's clearly going to be a promotional tool rather than a journalistic effort covering the league." There is "no way the buildup could possibly justify the entertainment value" (GAINESVILLE SUN, 8/12).

TEBOW AND CO. USA TODAY's Paul Myerberg wrote Tim Tebow is, "by all accounts, the brightest star in ESPN's new SEC universe." SEC Net Coordinating Producer Brett Austin said of Tebow, "I don't know what his ceiling is or if he even has a ceiling. His depth of knowledge and his passion -- kind of where he comes from -- it's amazing. It really is. He's dialed in from day one" (USA TODAY, 8/11). The TAMPA BAY TIMES' English writes one of the concerns with Tebow as an analyst is "whether he can be critical." MSU football coach Dan Mullen said that he "has no doubt Tebow can put aside his squeaky-clean image and critique players and coaches if necessary -- even his former coach" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 8/14). In Dallas, Barry Horn noted Marcus Spears has "leapfrogged from the NFL trenches to a place on what promises to be the high-profile main studio set" on the SEC Net. Spears has "no national television experience and a relatively low profile" and "did not take a single broadcast course in college." Spears, upon hearing of the SEC Net, sent a tweet to ESPN VP/College Networks Stephanie Druley. Spears: "I asked her to follow me. When she did, I sent her a private message asking if I could audition for the network" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 8/9).
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