SBJ/Aug. 11-17, 2014/In Depth

Faces of the SEC Network

Some might play roles that are behind the scenes, but the network wouldn’t get off the ground without these people.

REX ARENDS
ESPN
Perhaps no one has the perspective on a conference channel launch that Arends has. The 33-year TV veteran was at
Photo by: Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images
Fox Sports in 2007 when the Big Ten Network launched, and here he is, doing it all over again with the SEC Network. Arends is the prototypical behind-the-scenes guy. His expertise is in operations, or all of the technical details required to produce an event. Whenever a school has a question about its control room, cameras, replay equipment, audio or fiber, Arends is the first call. He and senior remote operations manager Scott Hecht have guided the schools through the intricacies of launching a network, while conveying to each school what will be expected of them, from a production standpoint.

CHRIS TURNER
ESPN, SEC NETWORK
He might be based in ESPN’s Charlotte office, but no one from ESPN has spent
more time in the SEC’s Birmingham, Ala., headquarters than Turner. When ESPN struck its landmark broadcast deal with the SEC in 2008, Turner was assigned to be the network’s liaison with the conference. He worked on programming to make sure that all terms of the contract were being fulfilled. That job — senior director of SEC programming — now extends to the SEC Network, where the 19-year ESPN veteran is working with the schools and the conference office to make sure the network is hitting its marks in terms of live events and other shows.

SEAN BREEN
DISNEY, ESPN NETWORKS
Fights between networks and distributors are common when channels launch. That surprisingly hasn’t been the case
with the SEC Network, thanks largely to Breen. Nine months before its planned launch, ESPN signed AT&T U-verse to a deal. Two months later, Dish Network signed up. By the time the channel launches, it will be fully distributed with DirecTV and Time Warner Cable, distributors that have held a hard line with other networks. Breen joined ESPN in 2000 and has handled many of the most ticklish negotiations, including retransmission consent.

MICHELLE BERRY
ESPN
Photo by: Scott Clarke / ESPN Images
Generating excitement for the SEC Network among SEC fans doesn’t sound like that tough of a job, but someone had to bring that passion to life, and target it in such a way that it would drive support for the new network. Berry, ESPN’s New York-based senior director of marketing, took that job head-on. She vetted the SEC Network’s ad agency, North Carolina-based McKinney, and helped engineer ad campaigns that included all 14 SEC schools. Notable among those was the “Take It All In” series of spots that highlight traditions on each of the campuses.

CHARLIE HUSSEY
SEC
When conference Commissioner Mike Slive needed someone to
Photo by: SEC
runpoint on the SEC Network’s development, he selected Hussey, a 15-year veteran in the league office. Hussey has emerged as the SEC’s point of contact for both the schools and ESPN. Hussey is SEC through and through. He grew up in Oxford, Miss., the son of a University of Mississippi chemistry professor. After graduating from Ole Miss in 1999, he went to work in the SEC office and since then has touched nearly every aspect of the conference’s business, starting in ticketing, advancing to championships and, in 2008, joining the SEC’s team of associate commissioners, led by Mark Whitworth, that oversees relationships with ESPN and CBS. The game-changer for Hussey came when Slive invited him to sit in on the 2008 negotiations with both network partners. Network relations has been central to his duties ever since.

MARIA TAYLOR
SEC NETWORK
Photo by: Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images
Taylor is set up to be a face of the SEC Network, having signed a multiyear deal in April to be a host, sideline reporter and analyst. She will be assigned high-profile games as a sideline reporter for football and will be an analyst for volleyball and women’s basketball. Taylor had been a basketball analyst and reporter for ESPN before taking the SEC Network gig.

MEG ARONOWITZ
ESPN, SEC NETWORK

A big reason that the SEC and ESPN wanted to launch the SEC Network is to promote Olympic sports, and the network plans to produce at least 120 Olympic events per year for the channel. ESPN’s Aronowitz will oversee that action as coordinating producer.

SCOTT WILLIAMS
ESPN, SEC NETWORK

Hired in May from the Atlanta Braves to focus on regional sales for the SEC Network, Williams has joined a team that has been tying network sponsorships to seasonlong ad buys. As with ESPN’s overall ad sales efforts, the SEC Network will have a big digital component, which Williams will handle from ESPN’s Atlanta sales office.

BEN MAY
ESPN, SEC NETWORK
SEC roots run deep among many of those tied to the new network. Here Ben May is joined by son Ben Jr. as younger son Andrew graduates from Auburn.
Photo by: Ben May
One of the critical components of ESPN’s negotiation with the SEC was the corporate partner program and sponsorship sales. Those rights belonged to IMG College and had for several years. May had overseen that relationship and SEC sponsorship sales throughout that time. So when ESPN acquired the sponsorship rights last year, one of the network’s first calls went out to May, who was hired to continue running the partner program because of his experience and long-term relationships. May is primarily focused on a small set of blue-chip SEC partners, like AT&T and Dr Pepper, and their activation, especially at the SEC football championship game in Atlanta and the conference basketball tournament.



DAN MARGULIS
ESPN, SEC NETWORK
The longtime ESPN programmer is one of the executives in charge of
choosing the games that will be featured on the SEC Network — choices that often have a lot of strategy behind them. For example, the channel’s first football game will be between South Carolina and Texas A&M — two schools deep in Time Warner Cable markets. Its next game will be between Vanderbilt and Temple — two schools in Comcast markets. It’s no coincidence that Comcast and Time Warner Cable both signed deals to carry the channel at its launch.

SBJ Podcast:
College writer Michael Smith and editor Tom Stinson discuss what the SEC Network means to the conference's schools as it gets ready to launch.


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