SBJ/July 16-22, 2012/Colleges

XOS Digital will launch Sun Belt Digital Net

XOS Digital has replaced IMG College as the Sun Belt Conference’s multimedia rights holder.

The two signed a seven-year deal for an undisclosed sum to have XOS launch and manage the Sun Belt Digital Network, which will stream conference games and events.

XOS will handle sales for the conference’s entire corporate sponsorship inventory. The two will share revenue after the Sun Belt receives its guaranteed amount each year.

The deal marks a new step for XOS into the crowded multimedia rights marketplace. XOS now becomes one of a handful of marketing and media agencies — like Front Row Marketing and Rockbridge Sports — that is looking to get deeper into the multimedia rights space. To date, that space has been dominated by IMG College and Learfield Sports. The challenge for new companies trying to break into the space is that many of these school and conference deals are tied up in long-term contracts.

But XOS’ deal with the Sun Belt and its experience in developing the SEC’s digital network gives the Orlando-based technology company a solid starting point to move into multimedia rights.

“This is a first for us,” said XOS Digital CEO Chris McCleary. “The Sun Belt Conference is in sync in understanding the needs of its sponsors and the community.”

In fact, the conference’s commissioner, Karl Benson, said he opened talks with XOS soon after he was hired in March. Benson knew about XOS from his time as commissioner of the WAC, when he was negotiating to have XOS start a digital network.

IMG College had previously held the Sun Belt Conference’s rights but dropped the conference earlier this year.

“We were talking with XOS about setting up the digital network at the same time that IMG pulled the plug,” Benson said.

Benson said he was most attracted by the idea of a digital network that will stream games to mobile, tablet and smart TV devices.

“As a conference, we needed to maximize our media exposure, and the digital network is the vehicle outside of traditional cable,” he said. “This will complement our arrangement with ESPN.”

The digital network will stream games that are not carried on ESPN or regional sports networks. All sports, including football, will be streamed, but Benson said the conference still is a long way from coming up with a schedule or even figuring out who will produce the games. In some cases, XOS will produce the games; in others, the schools will carry that responsibility. But XOS will handle all of the back-end technology.

“Right now the biggest obstacle is in the production,” McCleary said. “All of the infrastructure is in place to stream games in HD quality. We have to make sure that the games are produced well.”

Sales will be handled by Max Heineman, XOS’ senior vice president of strategic partnerships. He is based in Orlando, but the company has account executives in five other markets: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, Los Angeles and New York.

Staff writer Michael Smith contributed to this report.
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